Spotlight: Rural Practice on Jura

Over the next few months we hope to feature a number of spotlights on current rural GPs across Scotland.  Dr Martin Beastall works on Jura with his wife Dr Abby…

Life and Work on the Isles of Islay & Jura: Living the Remote and Rural Dream

Who are we?

Jura Medical Practice consists of a husband and wife GP team – myself (Dr Martin Beastall (42)) and Dr Abby Beastall (36). I am responsible for the running of the Surgery on Jura and Dr Abby works mainly at the Bowmore Surgery on Islay, and does one session per week on Jura. Between us, we are also responsible for out of hours care on Jura 24 hours per day, 7 days per week. We came to Jura just over 5 years ago having both worked in and around the Doncaster area in England for a similar length of time. We were both looking for a change, an adventure, and having both worked in large urban Practices, a chance to reconnect with our patients and make a real difference to their lives. We met on the Doncaster GP training scheme in 2005. I had changed from Surgical training, whereas Abby had always intended to train as a GP. Between us, we have a varied mix of skills, perfect for the challenges that Remote & Rural Medicine brings.

Where are we? 

Jura is a large island of approximately 400 square kilometres in the Southern Hebrides, situated to the north east of Islay. Jura has a tiny population (under 250), whereas Islay’s community numbers just over 3000. We are situated directly west of Glasgow as the crow flies. An ill patient can be transported by helicopter to Glasgow in under 30 minutes, whereas a journey by car requires two ferries and takes most of a day to complete.

Why are you there?

Rural General practice brings with it many challenges but also great rewards. We have the opportunity to genuinely provide ‘cradle to grave’ medical care and to be an integral part of our patients’ lives. We are a small but thriving community on Jura. We believe having medical services here is essential for the continued growth and stability of our community and that without continuity and stability, the future of the community overall would be threatened.

Who is our patient population?

The population of Jura matches the overall Scottish demographic, just in miniature. Every age group is represented and the care we provide ranges from baby vaccinations to very personal palliative care for those coming to the end of their lives.

Who do you work with locally?

Being the GP on Jura means being the Doctor, Practice Nurse, Phlebotomist, Health Care Assistant, Paramedic and Pre-Hospital Responder all in one. Flexibility and a willingness to attempt almost any task asked of you is key here. We are lucky to have a dedicated team of carers and District Nurses on the island, and are well supported by allied health professionals based on Islay also. Emergencies are dealt with locally when possible, but a comprehensive support structure exists regionally to provide help ranging from helicopter transport to full blown medical retrieval teams when required.

What is it like having 24 hour a day responsibility for your patients’ health and wellbeing?

Being ready and available 24/7 can be hard psychologically. Patients have direct access to their GP here (rather than using a service such as NHS24) which has its pros and cons. Being able to deal with things locally is very satisfying but it can be hard sometimes to demonstrate to the wider world the time and money saved by avoiding transferring patients elsewhere.

What impact have the new GP contract negotiations had on you?

We have both been very grateful for the efforts made by the RGPAS on our behalf. We feel that as rural GPs we are very much an afterthought. Issues such as the provision of out of hours cover after April 1st 2018 have been very unclear. This has had a destabilising effect on us, exactly the opposite of the stated intended effect of the new contract.

What challenges do you face engaging in the political process?

Being geographically remote and (due to childcare issues) essentially single handed means attending meetings is very difficult given the 24/7 responsibility for patient care. Video conferencing and webcasting still seems the exception rather than the norm. It is easy to feel out on a limb here.

What are your thoughts regarding your future? 

We both remain positive about our futures living on Islay and Jura. We cannot imagine a better community to live in and raise our daughter in, and are hopeful that the new GP contract will enable us to continue to provide the high level of medical care we have done for the last five years for the foreseeable future.

Photos by Martin and Abby.
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