GP saved my life after ectopic pregnancy, says Yorkshire woman in plea to retain doctors' home visits

As a young mother Janet Berry nearly died in indescribable pain, unaware she was suffering an ectopic pregnancy.

Her life was saved by the long-serving family GP, paying a home visit at the behest of her fearful mother.

While such a service might today be deemed too old-fashioned an approach, Janet, now a 73-year-old grandmother, says that it is sorely missed.

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Were GP home visits to be reduced further, she adds, such a risk might be missed altogether.

Janet Berry, of Hambleton, shares her experience of GP home visits after doctors voted to remove them from their core work. Image: James Hardisty

“I honestly think that if he had not come out, I could have died,” she said. “Things have just changed so much.

“I think we really saw the best of it, but that’s gone, which is sad in a way.”

Earlier this month, doctors voted to remove the ‘anachronism’ of home visits from core contract work, saying they no longer have the capacity to offer them.

The suggestion, dubbed a ‘siren call’ over NHS funding by Labour leaders, was immediately dismissed as a “complete non-starter” by Health Secretary Matt Hancock.

Janet Berry's mother Annie Fryer, who died of cancer at the age of 80. In her final days, says Mrs Berry, the family doctor would visit every day.

But East Yorkshire GP Dr Nick Summerton, writing in The Yorkshire Post this week, warned that rather than dismissing the call, Mr Hancock should perhaps have asked why GPs feel under so much pressure they should want to give up such a core part of their job.

The administrative burden placed on doctors is “intolerable”, he added, calling on Ministers to allow GPs to get back to being GPs.

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There is a two-week waiting list for an appointment at her local GP practice, she says. In urgent cases, callers are assessed over the phone before being allocated an appointment.

Grandmother Janet Berry, 73, suffered an ectopic pregnancy as a young mother. The family doctor saved her life that day, she says, by paying her a home visit. Image: James Hardisty.

The traditional ‘family’ doctor, she fears, who would grow to know a family over several decades and pay regular home visits, is becoming increasingly rare.

“In our day, the doctor knew you, he knew all the family,” said the grandmother-of-four, who raised three children including twins. “That’s just gone.”

When her mother was dying of ovarian cancer, the doctor would come every day, says Mrs Berry, arriving at 6am one morning when 80-year-old Annie Fryer had been struggling to catch her breath.

When Mrs Berry’s newborn baby had colic, it had been the family doctor who came to her aid.

Grandmother Janet Berry says the importance of home visits from GPs can not be underestimated. Image: James Hardisty.

And when, as a young mother to an 18-month-old, she had suffered an ectopic pregnancy at the age of 25, it was the family doctor that had saved her life.

“I was in terrible pain, I just didn’t know what was the matter with me,” said Mrs Berry. “I was grey, my face was grey, I was in so much pain.

“He said ‘I think you’re having an ectopic pregnancy’, which was something I’d never heard of before.”

“I couldn’t tell which side it was, because the pain was so intense,” she said.

“He saved my life. It all happened so quickly. I had no idea what was going on, I’d not even heard of an ectopic pregnancy.

“You couldn’t have explained that over the phone. They couldn’t have diagnosed it.

“If it happened now, I suppose my husband would have to drive me in and insist on seeing someone.

“There are quite a lot of old people, who can be too ill to get in to see the doctor.”

Health Secretary Matt Hancock immediately ruled out the idea, dismissing it as a “non-starter” and expressing his strong opposition to the proposal. The majority of delegates had supported a proposal to remove home visits from doctors’ key contract but Mr Hancock, speaking on BBC Radio 4s Today Programme, said sometimes a GP was needed.

The motion was not intended to remove the ability of GPs to perform home visits, independent body Kent Local Medical Committee has stressed, calling instead for a service that is properly resourced.