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Confronting an Ill Society. David Widgery, general practice, idealism and the chase for change

Patrick Hutt with Iona Heath and Roger

Radcliffe Publishing: Oxford, ISBN 1-85775-910-9, 2005, 144 pp, £19.95

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Following an election notably devoid of ideology, this book takes us back to the headier days of the 1970s and 1980s. We are reminded of events such as the Oz trial, Rock against Racism and the Anti-Nazi League. Walkon parts are played by such luminaries as Paul Foot, Michael Rosen, Julian Tudor-Hart and of course, David Widgery himself.

This book is about Patrick Hutt’s discovery of David Widgery, an East London general practitioner (GP), political activist, polemicist and writer. Hutt ‘discovered’ Widgery after he had died, on the advice of his tutor when taking a year out of his medical course to study history and philosophy. At the time Hutt was ambivalent about continuing to studymedicine, and describes how researching Widgery’s life for his dissertation rekindled his enthusiasm, and provided a model for a politically aware practice of medicine. Several years later (Hutt is now training to be a GP), andwith the help of RogerNeighbour and Iona Heath, the dissertation has been developed into a book. This documents Widgery’s life from his childhood experience of polio, his decision to study medicine, through political activism and general practice, to his death in 1992 of a drug overdose when aged 45. Hutt draws on press cuttings and interviews with those who knew Widgery (this is where the characters mentioned in the first paragraph come in, for example Paul Foot wrote his obituary in the Independent).

Debates about general practice and what it is for continue today – for example the conflict between public health and patient advocacy, and the value of the generalist in providing continuity and understanding the social and psychological components of medical problems against patient choice and efficient skill mix. We can only speculate how Widgery would have contributed to these discussions, but I think the suggestion from one contributor that he would have been an adviser to Tony Blair is very unlikely!

Andrew Wilson
Reader in General Practice
University of Leicester

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