Popular Ballygawley GP bows out after almost three decades of caring and dedicated service.

Thursday, 9 November 2017

Popular Ballygawley GP bows out after almost three decades of caring and dedicated service. thumbnail Dr Theo Nugent, from Ballygawley, who has retired.

After nearly three decades of providing a kind and caring service in the Ballygawley locality, popular GP., Dr Theo Nugent, has decided to bow out.

The north Belfast native has been working in the town since February 1989 - initially sharing premises with the McCord practice before opening his own surgery seven years later - and said farewell to his loyal staff and many patients at the end of September this year.

Over 28 years the highly-respected doctor, known for his warm personality, helped grow the practice gradually and today Errigal Medical Centre now cares for over 4,000 patients.

Explaining his reasons for retiring, Dr Nugent, 58, said he felt the time was right, though he enjoyed his time there tremendously. "I think most GPs tend to retire at 60, or as close to 60 as possible, to prevent burnout, such is the volume and constancy of the work.

"I was conscious that I could not continue at the same rate forever. I was also very fortunate that the practice has several very good doctors working there.

So, to sum up, I wanted to maintain the continuity of the practice, and self-preservation was also a factor." He added: "It has been a great privilege to serve the area.

Ballygawley is a great place to live and to raise children. I think comparing notes with my colleagues in Belfast, there isn't the same mutual respect between doctor and patient in the urban practices. To me, mutual respect is the bed-rock of general practice - the doctor has to respect the patient, their family, views, hopes and fears, but likewise, patients have to respect that doctors aren't perfect.

In an area like Ballygawley, this has been much easier to achieve."

Dr Nugent is retiring with his wife, Gabrielle, who was the practice manager at Errigal Medical Centre. The couple met in the City Hospital in Belfast in 1987 and Dr Nugent says they have been a 'double act' since.

They married in 1989, just after they arrived in Ballygawley. The couple have no grand plans for their retirement, but are just looking forward to some much needed time at their Ballygawley home.

"It sounds a bit glum to say we have no plans - and that isn't true - but we would like to give it four or six months to settle into the routine of retirement. We have a lot of interests, but we have no big ideas or commitments for now. " Asked if their final day in the surgery was emotional, Dr Nugent said: "I purposely kept it as low key as possible.

Lots of patients knew we were going, and they said lots of lovely things, but I didn't want the final day to be a holiday camp atmosphere as patients were still coming in with their issues.

"We had a going-away do for the staff and their partners. I wasn't emotional, I had prepared and planned long enough for it, though it was quite strange seeing the last few patients. The only thing I did not expect was a week of sleeping on my first week off - I was so exhausted!"

Dr Nugent's typical working week recently had been Monday to Friday, from 8am to 6pm, but even this was in stark contrast to his first job, working at the then Erne Hospital in Enniskillen where he was on duty for up to 100 hours in one week!

He always had a fondness for County Fermanagh as a youngster as his grandparents ran a farm between Kesh and Pettigo, and he would spend many summers there. It allowed him to escape the hustle and bustle of Belfast, and it wouldn't be long before he returned to the locality.

"In my younger days I went to St Malachy's College in Belfast and progressed to Queen's University for a six-year course," Dr Nugent explained.

"Belfast wasn't much 'craic' in those days, I couldn't stay too late at university as travelling back to north Belfast at night wasn't the nicest experience. However, I really enjoyed my time there."

He continued: "I had the notion of becoming a doctor from an early age. A neighbour of ours, who was a charismatic guy, was a GP, and I always felt he was a sound man. He was kind enough to chat with me about the job.

"I always preferred being out in the country, and so when I graduated I landed a job in the Erne Hospital in Enniskillen. I worked long hours, it could have been 100 hours a week, but I lived on the hospital site. There was always a good sense of camaraderie there.

"I also worked in Cornwall for a time - it was an interesting place. But I always had a notion of coming back home, as I couldn't get away from the Cornish practice in the summer months because the population went from around 20,000 in the winter to around 120,000 in the summer due to the influx of tourists.

With children on the horizon, this was far from ideal." Dr Nugent arrived in Ballygawley in February 1989. "I was sharing the Health Centre with the McCord practice. I felt we needed proper premises as numbers were increasing and in 1994 I began planning the new surgery and moved in there in 1996.

"Numbers increased steadily over the years, and continue to increase today. The list went from 2,000 to just over 4,000 now.

I think there are a number of factors involved - I have been fortunate to work with lots of good doctors and staff. The vibe is very good and patients are able to get appointments quite quickly."

Some weeks Dr Nugent would cover 130 hours, other weeks he would cover 80, before the Board took over the responsibility of out-of-hours in 2004. "This meant I was able to opt out of out-of-hours service. I feel it was vital this change was made because if it hadn't happened then it would have been much more difficult to recruit GPs into rural areas than it already is."

Northern Ireland is facing a major shortage of GPs covering rural and urban areas, with one area of Co Fermanagh losing its GP services altogether, and Dr Nugent feels fortunate he has an excellent partner to step in at Errigal Medical Centre.

"In some rural areas, GPs have got to the retirement age and no doctor is willing or prepared to take on the practice. There are serious challenges ahead when it comes to recruiting young GPs into the rural areas.

"Thankfully Dr Potter has been my partner for a number of years, and it is great to have someone from the locality. He is very tuned in and is keen to take on GP training.

That is a big development and very important because a person that trains in a rural area is more likely to think of working in a rural area later on.

"What has happened in areas of Fermanagh sends out a message that general practices need more attention.

They are underfunded particularly in Northern Ireland." Dr Nugent appears to have inspired the career of his daughter, Emer, who is also a doctor, but he feels things need to improve in the industry.

"I wouldn't put a young person off the idea of becoming a doctor. I certainly wouldn't tell anyone to go ahead and do it, but nor would I discourage them.

It depends what happens over the next five or 10 years - how change is encouraged by government. If things improve to the degree that the profession is properly funded and respected by government, and if there is an understanding that they won't move the goalposts every year or two, it will remain a great career."


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