My NHS story - Dr Utpal Barua

People have shared their wonderful memories of the NHS over the last 75 years to help celebrate the NHS's 75th Birthday

Dr Barua shares his NHS memories

Dr Utpal Barua reflects on his career in the NHS.

When I was about 15-year-old we lived in a small-town called Shillong in India. One day my uncle (who was a doctor) came to stay with us for an operation at the local Christian Missionary Hospital for his stomach ulcer. The Surgeon’s name was Dr. Arthur Hughes who was known as Schweitzer of Assam., a Welsh man by birth. At that time there was not many surgeons in the whole of the Northeast of India who had the expertise to perform such major surgery. Many people had to travel from far and near to receive such treatment at the local Mission Hospital.

When my uncle arrived at our house he was in a lot of pain, and he looked emaciated, sick, weak, and pale due to bleeding in his stomach. My dad took him to the Mission hospital where he had an operation. My parents and uncles’ family were overly concerned when the surgeon told them that as he had a bleeding perforated peptic ulcer, his chances of death was 50% or more. After his operation following a long a recuperation period uncle gradually recovered and returned to his medical practice again. He was overly impressed by Dr. Hugh’s Personality and his skills. However, what impressed him most was that Dr Hughes told him in the UK all patients are entitled to free medical care provided by the state called NHS.

That was the first time when the idea of being a doctor crossed in my mind. I also knew that at that time many poor Indians died because of lack of money and lack of local medical facilities in rural villages and small towns. Such an experience motivated me to choose medicine as my future career to provide free health care when I become a doctor.

I graduated from Assam Medical College in 1968. Later I moved to UK for further advanced qualifications and finally joined the NHS as a junior doctor. As a junior doctor life was very hectic. Like all juniors my day started at 8 am in the morning with ‘Ward round’, taking instructions from seniors, booking radiology appointments, ECG, filling in lab. forms, attending to phone calls, dealing with tense relatives, admitting patients, attending outpatients, assisting consultants in operation theatre.

“On Call” days we had to work for 24 hours at a stretch, holding to our pager as if we were robot on automation. A sense of physical fatigue and mental exhaustion often caused brain fog leading to poor concentration, fuzzy head, forgetfulness… fatigue.

The term ‘life /work balance’ was yet be invented and most of us (particularly the married doctors) were faced with discord in their family life /relationship. After I completed my hospital training, I decided to join as a General Medical Practitioner in a small town in NE England where I practised for thirty-five long years.

Looking back, I realise that all those years of junior doctor’s experiences, (although tough and sedulous), proved to be the bedrock of my future lengthy career as a medical practitioner.

I am grateful to the NHS for the privilege to learn, practice, and provide a selfless service where I made my new friends, learned my trade from some of the world’s best teachers.   I was trusted by my clients and became an integral part of the local community, where my children grew up.

I was lucky to embark on a research project that led me to a PHD degree and was the first General Medical Practitioner to receive a Welcome trust travel bursary to the State University of New York, Buffalo in USA. I suspect my young son was influenced by my lifestyle and decided to follow my footsteps to join the NHS after his graduation as a medical Doctor. When he finished his Post graduation medical qualifications, he decided to serve the NHS as a Specialist Neurosurgeon. I am proud and happy that over the years he excelled in his chosen speciality and currently actively contributing to the advancement of AI Research program on Brain Surgery. Now we got another medic in our family (our daughter-in -law) who is a consultant Gynaecologist working for the NHS.

My daughter and my wife (not medically qualified) also made significant contributions to NHS by helping to raise thousands of pounds to many health-related Charity organisations over the last thirty + years.

On my retirement from clinical practice, I was elected as a Governor of two Teaching Hospital Trusts for 6+ years. The Hospital authority acknowledged my contributions to the NHS and recorded my achievements in hospital “Book of Records.”

Also, I worked as a Clinical Associate in a Hospital Respiratory Department, as a Prison Services Doctor, Adviser to Care Quality Commission, Medical Adviser to Social Security department, as an Advisor to the UK Judiciary till 2019.

Currently I am a PPG member of our local GP practice at Wells, Somerset.

Although the NHS is currently receiving lots of negative reports from public at large, millions of patients benefited by the expertise of family doctors at a time when the recent unprecedented covid-19 epidemic claimed at least 765,222,932 on (3rd May 2023 lives worldwide including 224,448 in UK).

NHS reported that covid-19 death toll among frontline NHS workers was estimated at 850 between March and December 2020. Such was the impact of the epidemic that 52,000 NHS staff were off sick with mental health and physical disabilities.

On 3rd of May 23 WHO declared that the Pandemic status of Covid-19 may be downgraded 38 months after it began, no longer a global health emergency.

Adapting quickly to new remote technologies GPs offered video consultations, additional vaccination facilities, reduced face to face consultation from 36.8% in March to 53% in in June 2020.

NHS deserve public appreciation for coordinated efforts to treat/manage such new deadly challenges where everyone pulled together.

All the people I met during my long association with the NHS expressed genuine ambition to help people, passionate about learning new technology, participating in research for the advancement of newly emerged scientific knowledge, critical thinking, problem-solving skills, dedication to make people live better, healthier and to live a happy life.

Looking back to my long years as an NHS doctor, I believe the most important ingredient of a good doctor has not changed.

“Medical profession is a feat, it requires self-sacrifice, purity of soul and purity of thoughts.” - (Anton Pavlovich Chekhov).

Today, I feel lucky that NHS was the niche where I fulfilled my life’s ambitions to achieve emotional intelligence and perform my civic responsibilities.

NHS helped me to realise the dreams of a 15 year old boy come true.

Thanks for the Privilege.

Dr. Utpal Barua, JP. MBBS, M.I. Biol, C. Biol, PH. D.


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