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Healing history for premises

A GP surgery boasts healing connections for centuries.

Dr Rebecca Hatjiosif's north-London premises has housed a GP surgery constantly since it was built in 1888.

Before Dr Hatjiosif acquired the building, it had been used by five GPs before her, stretching back to its construction for Victorian GP Dr Ridley Webster, who practised there for 14 years. In that sense it was 'purpose-built', although he lived in most of the building. As a pun on his name, he had a cobweb carved into the gable.

Expanding practice

The initially rural practice grew steadily as London expanded north and engulfed the village of Muswell Hill, and three more single-handed GPs came and went at the Rutland House surgery.

In the 1950s, Dr Alan Levinson took over. He had a system whereby private patients came in through the front door and sat in a waiting room with a bay window while NHS patients entered via the back door and sat in the corridor. Dr Hatjiosif inherited, and ended, this system when she took over in 1992.

When Dr Hatjiosif acquired the building, she set about making it suitable for modern practice. At that time, only the ground floor was medical premises, with five flats above. The surgery consisted of just two formica-lined consulting rooms with a lavatory in the back garden.

Now the surgery has every modern facility in a large, ground-floor area, including reception, a waiting room, an attractive treatment room and three modern consulting rooms. But it has kept period features like wooden floors and high, corniced ceilings. During the renovation works, a quantity of 1930s remedies, including 'healing powders' and natural remedies, were found under the floorboards.

'It's a cosy, friendly building,' says Dr Hatjiosif. 'I previously worked in Morley, in West Yorkshire, in a characterless, 1950s health centre but this surgery has a lovely atmosphere, and the patients find it convenient.

It is on the main road, in the middle of a locality that has a problem with access to GP surgeries. We don't have to tout for work.'

As the PCT agreed the notional rent, Dr Hatjiosif was gradually able to acquire more of the premises and expand into the first floor, which now contains the surgery offices. The top floor is a private flat.

Dr Hatjiosif started out as a single-hander, but as the premises expanded, she took on a full-time and a part-time partner, two practice nurses, six receptionists, a practice manager and a healthcare assistant, dealing with a list of 6,000.

Atmosphere

Some of the staff have been with the practice since its inception in 1992.

'The staff love the atmosphere of the building,' she says.

The list is diverse and challenging, with a lot of asylum seekers as well as well-informed, middle-class print-out brandishers.

Haringey has a highly mobile population, with 25 per cent turnover each year. This means that the practice has to register 1,000 to 1,500 patients per annum to keep its list size up.

'The patients seem to enjoy the building,' says Dr Hatjiosif. 'The only drawback is the restricted space, and there is a long corridor which we wouldn't choose to have.'

But even before the Victorian era, the site had a healthcare connection: in the middle ages, the surgery plot was part of a farm owned by nuns based at Clerkenwell.

According to one of the practice's patients, local historian Ken Gay, when the Pope refused to grant Henry VIII a divorce, he seized the land as part of the Dissolution of the Monasteries (1536-1540).

Healing pilgrimage

On this land was a holy well, after which Muswell Hill had been named.

The well had become a place of healing pilgrimage after a 12th-century Scottish king who was 'strangely diseased' received a divine instruction to visit the 'spring of fair water' there, and was cured.

And so it remains. Dr Hatjiosif is delighted that people visit the site today for the same reasons they have for centuries - health and well being - even if now treatments do not depend so much upon sacred spring water.

In the future, Dr Hatjiosif might consider expanding into the top floor of the house to accommodate developments, such as locality commissioning.

She expects the site of Rutland House to continue to be a centre of healing for many years to come.

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