Nagendra Sarmah

Nagendra was born in Assam in Northern India on 4 April 1936. He completed his medical training at Assam Medical College and came to the UK in 1965. After qualification in India he had conducted some training in gynaecology and came to the UK to continue with study in this specialism, settling initially in Cheshire and working as a Senior House Officer at Nantwich Hospital. Although this was a small hospital, Nagendra found himself working up to 120 hours a week. He then found work in a teaching hospital in Manchester completing a six month post as a house surgeon and then went on to the Wittingshire Maternity Hospital nearby. He worked at the junior doctor level for two years, whilst trying to get Registrar posts, but without getting an interview. He decided to change specialism to anaesthesia as he now had a young family to support and worked in Bolton in Lancashire. He didn’t enjoy this area of medicine, so continued to apply for jobs in obstetrics and gynaecology and eventually found a Registrar’s position in Liverpool. Nagendra realized that if he took this post, he would only see his wife and two children every other weekend as they were living in Stafford. He therefore decided to abandon his plans to become a consultant and entered general practice, but even here he found it difficult to find enough patients to survive financially. Eventually he succeeded in taking over a single-handed practice in Chorlton cum Hardy in surburban Manchester, working extremely hard and building up a practice list to 3200 by 1977, taking on a further 1200 and employing another GP at the request of the health authority. He was elected to the local medical committee and also to the Manchester University medical school selection board, winning an award in 1984 from the Manchester Community Health Council for good service to his patients. He suffered from glaucoma and had a heart bypass in the late 1990s, so after working part-time for a few years he retired in 2001.

Working hard and making sacrifices

By the time I came about 100 patients left because I had joined the practice. They didn’t want to go to Asian doctors here at that time and in the 1970s there was bad publicity about South Asian doctors, from the Daily Mail, anti Asian immigrants and that sort of thing. So I came and I had to really work hard. In the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s being a single handed doctor means you are responsible for your patients 365 days a year. Even Christmas and bank holidays. You are not off, you are on call. Your patients have access to you. So you can’t even go for a shower! And the complaint levels against Asian doctors are very high. British doctors do their mistake and get away with it. In the fear, I would say that I was probably practising defensive medicine. In the fear to be good and keep the popularity I was working hard, constantly. I never saw my two little girls getting up and by the time I’d finished they’d gone to bed. I couldn’t tell them bedtime stories – it is sad.

Nagendra Sarmah

India