Hundreds of patients join send-off for GP who changed name to highlight underfunding

An Essex GP who changed his name by deed poll to bring attention to chronic underfunding at his practice has retired after securing the practice's future and handing it on to two new partners.

Dr John Cormack - the Family Doctor who works for the NHS for free and Sue Cormack (centre). (Photo: Tracey Morter)
Dr John Cormack - the Family Doctor who works for the NHS for free and Sue Cormack (centre). (Photo: Tracey Morter)

South Woodham Ferrers GP Dr John Cormack changed his name by deed poll in 2013 to 'Dr John Cormack - the Family Doctor who works for the NHS for free'.

The Essex GP wrote to then health secretary Jeremy Hunt to explain that his practice was 'the worst funded in Britain' - and that while the average GP earned around £100,000 a year, he was delving into his savings to pay around £5,000 a year 'for the privilege of looking after my patients'.

Dr John Cormack - the Family Doctor who works for the NHS for free and his wife Sue Cormack, a practice nurse, set up a practice in 1982 in South Woodham Ferrers and moved to its current premises at the Greenwood Surgery in the 1990s.

GP funding

Over the decades, the Essex GP has gone to exceptional lengths to keep the practice going and to fight for better funding. In addition to changing his name by deed poll, he has taken the NHS to the High Court twice, released a spoof blues song about practice underfunding and challenged the health secretary to try working for nothing like he did.

In the course of the long-running battle to keep the practice going, Dr John Cormack - the Family Doctor who works for the NHS for free has built up a fiercely loyal patient list, with patients raising thousands of pounds to pay for vital equipment. Hundreds of patients turned out at a leaving event on 28 April to thank him and his wife Sue.

The Essex GP - whose early career saw him write sketch material for BBC comedy programme 'Not the Nine O'Clock News' says he may now change his name by deed poll again - to Dr John Cormack - the Family Doctor who used to work for the NHS for free. Speaking to GPonline five years ago about his initial name change, he said he had tried every sensible way of raising the issue of underfunding at his practice with politicians and the NHS, but had got ‘absolutely nowhere’.

He added: ‘No one takes you seriously if you behave in the normal manner, so I thought I might as well do something that most people would consider a bit zany.’

Digital records

Dr John Cormack - the Family Doctor who works for the NHS for free said that his practice had always been about 10 years ahead of its peers, often through necessity. It was an early adopter of computerised patient records and effectively became a nurse-led practice to cope with chronic underfunding.

He said strong support from patients for the practice was 'probably an endorsement of the small, friendly practice model, where everyone is on first-name terms and continuity of care is good'.

In general practice as a whole, he said, the 'personal touch is being lost'. He said: 'I think the government feels GPs are a bit like tins of peas, pretty much interchangeable. You can take one off the shelf, put another one back - there isn’t that family feel.

'What we prided ourselves on was that family feel - patients and staff feel like part of that family. If there is any hope for general practice it is to try and recreate that in the model the government has in mind - the superpractices or networks.'

The Essex GP told GPonline that what had finally helped to improve the Greenwood Surgery's finances enough to persuade two new partners to take it on was an expansion in its patient list.

The surgery now has around 6,000 patients after patients moved following the closure of two nearby practices in recent years. 'At one time it was a no-hoper. But we managed to turn it around financially to the extent that two doctors were able to take it over.'

One patient said on Facebook: 'Today we said goodbye to a legend. John and Sue did so much for my family and for all your families.'

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