Posted by: Linda Proud | October 4, 2011

Can you trust your PCT?

Everyone at Wolvercote and Kendall Crescent surgeries received a letter recently advising us that last night’s edition of Dispatches on Channel 4, Can you trust your doctor?, would feature our  ex-GP, Mark Huckstep. As ever with a letter from NHS Oxfordshire (Primary Care Trust), you have to interpret the meaning. It seemed that the programme was not going to show them in a good light, and it didn’t.

(last third of the programme).

Not that Mark Huckstep is innocent. Let’s get that one straight. When we joined Wolvercote surgery in 2001, we had to get used to this doctor who had the most disarming manner and smile; each time we met him, all our background grumbling dissolved. He was just so nice. OK, so you had to wait up to an hour in the surgery for him to actually arrive, let alone see the people in front of you (not that there were many: the practice was hemorrhaging patients). You had to accommodate administrative inefficiency and not lose your temper when your results never came back or the repeat prescription was not waiting for collection, or was but hadn’t been signed.

At that time, my mother was still living in her own home but things were beginning to deteriorate and soon she was ping-ponging in and out of hospital and in and out of recuperation (short stays in care homes while social services wade through their workload). It was in these care homes that we began to see the name ‘Mark Huckstep’ up on boards. We also spotted his name at Nuffield Physio Dept., and he was the GP at Witney Hospital; all this on top of running two surgeries alone apart from locums.

Why? Why did he take on so much? Was it simple greed? Academic pride? Christian principles? He’s certainly an overt Christian and an enthusiastic evangelical. He’s also a great reader and thinker, and too many times we forgot to discuss the reason for my visit when we got into a rap on current reading. Once, in one of these chats, he told me that ‘they’ were out to get him, that he wouldn’t be around for much longer. The reason? He didn’t believe in abortion and wouldn’t refer young single girls on.

So when he did leave suddenly in the summer of 2010, we presumed we knew why, whatever the PCT said (or didn’t say) about it. The PCT offered us no good reason for his suspension from their Performers List and gossip was rife in the village, for instance how he had told one terminally ill patient that all she could do was pray and other such stories to show what a cuckoo Huckstep was. I found it all intriguing that, at the time we were losing our MP, Dr Evan Harris, known as Doctor Death round Westminster for his support of very late termination in abortions, we were losing our GP who was anti-abortion. The only thing connecting these two, apart from losing their jobs, was that they believed in something.

A couple more words about Mark Huckstep. Yes, his treatment of my mother in her last months was awful. Each time we called him, he either took anything up to 7 hours to arrive, or sent an ambulance in his stead. If the latter, then we lost Mum into the machinery of the hospital, and believe me, the situation in hospitals is FAR WORSE than anything GPs dole out. At the end, when one of the carers saw me in a frozen state because we needed help but I didn’t dare call the doctor, she pointed out that it was after hours. Sure enough, we happened upon an agency doctor who could deal with the dying and who was a tremendous support to us during the last week.

And then there was Huckstep’s treatment of me. I knew what I had, recognised the symptoms, took to the surgery all that was required and, after ten minutes gently guiding him towards the right diagnosis, he pronounced me diabetic. I helped him do the blood glucose test, because ‘I am inept with these things and leave it to the nurse’, whereas I was well practised having tested Mum regularly. So there we were, late December and my blood count pushing 30. He jumped on the phone to a consultant at the Radcliffe and wanted to know what he could do to treat me at home so that I didn’t have to go into hospital over Christmas.

He really looked after me. He took radical decisions with the medication – which has horrible side effects – which worked. I was really, really impressed. Yes, he was butterfly-minded but had a good heart.

And so to the programme, and the truth. What really happened was that Nurse Blackburn started work at the surgery and was so appalled by what she found that she reported Huckstep to the PCT. She was told that Huckstep had been on their radar for ten years. A locum doctor, Dr Slova, seconded to surgery was asked to write a report. She found three hundred unactioned abnormal blood test results. She worried at the PCT, requesting permission to inform the patients, but was told she could not. These two women are referred to as ‘whistleblowers’. What they said was that Dr Huckstep had far too big a workload and spread himself too thinly.

And that was the truth as we knew it, not as we had speculated. Despite these complaints, the PCT did not act but were ‘secretive and non-co-operative’. The women persisted that all those patients who had not received the results of blood tests should be contacted. They were not. Instead, these two women, who put truth before their own good, are now out of work.

Why does this society put the tag ‘whistleblower’ on someone who speaks the truth? In all my years I have never understood that, and I still don’t. Is it the old boy mentality that says one is loyal to one’s own and to hell with the rest?

What the PCT did (wrong) was seek to avoid ‘unnecessary anxiety’. OK. Fair enough. With any luck they recognise their mistake. But what they should be doing now is lauding those two women as heroes and taking steps to end their persecution.

Today in our lovely village (Jon Snow was filmed in front of the view  opposite our house – he and the camera team must have come and gone while I was in the kitchen) we have a surgery run very efficiently by Summertown Health Centre. My new doctor is sane, sweet, competent. Waiting time is minimal. Prescriptions are always ready and waiting.

Truth is, if it were not for those two women, now jobless, we would not have this wonderful new arrangement where we can all breathe a bit easier, and the surgery is filling up with patients again. What a sacrifice they made on our behalf!

I know from some Facebook exchanges last night that I’m not the only one in the village who wants to thank them for what they’ve done for us. This blog is the only way I know how. Perhaps someone will think of a better way.

Please leave your views if you were personally affected.



  1. thank you so much for this blog – my email is would be good to talk with you.

    best wishes

    Loo Blackburn Nurse

    • I was very moved and honoured by your visit to this blog. I’ll be in touch.

  2. Dear Linda;

    If you would like to support these two brave clinicians please support our campaign; ” Patients First” see our website

    Many clinicians who try to do the right thing and speak up end up losing their employment and fighting with the NHS in tribunal.

    By silencing and trying to discredit such clinical staff patient safety can be affected as it deters others from speaking in the future. This is essentially at the heart of our campaign.

    Whistleblowiing comes at the end of a long journey for most of us. What should happen is that we raise our concerns internally and they are addressed. We should not need to go to the press or to TV.

    Kind Regards

    Dr Kim Holt

    • Thank you so much for getting in touch. I agree wholeheartedly with everything you say. I’ll be off to visit your website when I’m done here.

  3. Nurse Blackburn is a close friend and this last 16 months have been such a struggle for her. It is so important that her’s and Dr Slova’s actions are understood and appreciated by the very patients they wanted to inform.

    • I don’t know the general mood in the village but those I’ve spoken to are certainly grateful, and the mood in the surgery is quite wonderful. Even the most dour receptionist is now all smiles. I was praising one of the locums to her. She said, ‘She’s not just good with patients. For me it’s like working with my sister. If she gets taken on full time, it’ll be all my Christmases come at once.’ I got the sense then of long suffering and keeping quiet on the part of the staff.

  4. This is often the case when someone speaks out; that others know completely what is wrong but feel unable to say. Sometimes it is because they are unsure, sometimes because they cannot risk losing their jobs, or sometimes because they have seen what happened to others who tried.

    It is hard to believe that things are as bad as they are when you work in a NHS organisation, it feels disloyal to speak out.

    But if we remember that our first duty is to patients then it makes it easier, and we should feel confident to do so.

    Patients First UK

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