After over 30 years at East Quay, I am now retiring from the practice that I joined in 1991. Sadly, Covid-19 has forced many of us to change our plans and as we enter another period of uncertainty with the emergence of the Omicron variant, any hope of having an event at which I can say goodbye to my patients and colleagues has been dashed. Instead therefore please allow me these few words.

I have been moved by the many kind words, cards and gifts that I have received over the past few weeks. I have been able to thank some of you in person,  but for those of you I haven’t been able to speak to,  please accept my gratitude on reading this.

It has always been a privilege for me to work as a family doctor. I have been involved in so many important life events for my patients and their families and I have always tried to offer the best of my knowledge, skill and care to everyone. There has been plenty of joy when, for example, a new life arrives, but also sadness when illness and death inevitably come along. To have been able to witness the strength, resilience and dignity of my patients in the face of life’s many challenges has been incredibly uplifting for me throughout my career and for this I will always be truly grateful.

I have had the opportunity to care for five generations of some families in Bridgwater and it is difficult to express in words what that has meant for me,  but it has meant a lot. My hope is that I have been able to make a difference, because that, at the end of the day, is what doctors must do. I thank you all for the trust you have placed in me by allowing me to be your doctor.

I hope that I have always been approachable to everyone and that we have also had some fun. I have always said that although the work we do is serious,  it doesn’t mean that we must always be serious and we must bring some of ourselves to what we do.

As well as being able to keep what I believe to be the most vital part of general practice, which for me is the personal list of patients, being at East Quay has also meant that I have been supported in developing services and my own career and when I look back I feel fortunate to have been able to do the things that I have done.  I am also happy to have been able to work with colleagues in other practices in Bridgwater and across Somerset.

I could not have offered the care nor achieved what I have without the support of everyone at East Quay, from my Partners both past and present,  from our fabulous nursing team, and from everyone in reception. You will no doubt know or remember most of them. However,  you may not be so aware of the other vital members of the team who mainly inhabit the upstairs part of the practice. Without them the surgery would soon grind to a halt and so I would especially like to thank everyone in general office, our secretaries and finance team, our cleaning and maintenance staff and finally, of course Rachel, who took over from Deb Farnworth-Wood as Practice Manager, and who has guided us and continues to guide us through the myriad of organisational changes imposed on us by successive governments. Thank you everyone.

I have always believed that the Partners in the practice are the guardians of East Quay and that it has been our job to secure and develop the surgery in order to offer the best care that we can with the resources that we have. The time has come for me to pass this responsibility on to the next generation of doctors and I have every faith that they will continue in the same vein. I especially want to welcome Dr Coral Stark who I am certain will readily step into the space I once occupied and thrive there.

I wish you all well in the future as I move on to the next stage in my life. I have many things that I plan to do in the years to come. For a while I will be doing occasional clinics at East Quay and I am taking on a new hospital role in Gloucestershire where I now live. I have three grandchildren so far and am looking forward to seeing more of them along with the rest of my family. I also hope to be able to keep playing squash and to get back to running again.

Goodbye and farewell.

Dr Stephen Gardiner