After 32 years working at York Medical Practice, Dr Frank Thomas – loved by many for his compassion, traditional attitudes to always strive to do the best for his patients and called a, “pillar of the community” by his colleagues – will be retiring at the end of this month. I interviewed him in his last few days left at the practice, when he told me about some of his vast experiences, passions and what gets him up in the mornings.

Becoming a GP was not his initial ambition – prior to this he qualified as a dentist – but it was during the medical training to facilitate the maxillary facial surgery he pursued that, he told me, “What I discovered was that the thing I liked about dentistry was doing things with my hands; the surgical side of the end of the day you have something that you can say: I did that.” After 38 years as a doctor, Dr Thomas has seen the profession evolve and like many, expressed his frustrations about the shifting focus from providing care for patients, first and foremost, to an overwhelming amount of administration. This, being the principle reason why, he told me, “I’m notorious for overrunning because I find that 10 minutes is never long enough!” However, his, “huge knowledge of the community,” which colleague Dr Amy Boughton told me of, accumulated as a consequence of, “having looked after several different generations of extended families over the last 30 years,” is a testament to his endeavours to always strive to do what is best for his patients and is a reflection of his humility and hard work.

But, what is it that has motivated Dr Thomas during his extensive career and continues to get him out of bed every morning? “Every day is different and you never know who is going to walk through the door. It might be something trivial or it might be something serious; even if it is something trivial, to that patient it’s important. They wouldn’t have bothered otherwise. Often you find that the patients who you perhaps have not done the greatest deeds for, nevertheless seem to be the most grateful.”

As a professional who has the power to potentially change someone’s life, I posed the question to him about how patients have affected him. His response demonstrated how profoundly moved he has been at the death of patients as a result of his close involvement with their health and general care. In addition, over the years he has helped mentor registrars and notes that many of them have been surprised at the demands of the job – especially in comparison to the hospital work they had experience of: “General practice is much tougher now than it was in my day, predominantly because we have an ageing population.”

From sitting in his office which is decorated with photographs, it is evident that he is a very proud father. He has a daughter, Alys, 24, who is a commonwealth swimmer, and Tim, 28, who he admits is “far better than I ever was,” at their shared passion for building models. He hopes to dedicate more time to his hobbies during his retirement; he is an, “ardent model maker” and also enjoys agility training with his three standard sizes poodles.

Since announcing his retirement, Dr Thomas told me of the kind messages people have sent him; “They remind me of things that have transpired in the past and things I have long since forgotten about, but obviously it has left a lasting impression on them.” And, indeed, this must be true because of the relationship he has built up with patients, many of whom he will miss as, “they have become friends over the years.” His co-workers are equally as complimentary about him as his loyal patients, with one of the doctors, Dr Catriona Humphries, specifically saying that, “He’s been lovely to work with… And he has loads of stories.” It didn’t take much persuading for Dr Thomas to relive the rather unusual experience he had whist working in a hospital in Cardiff – his hometown – where he encountered a grenade which was stuck in a man’s bottom and required tentative operating to extract. It transpired that the grenade was still live as, “the bomb disposal people had to explode it on Barry beach the following day!”

Without doubt, Dr Thomas will be missed by all, staff and patients, at York Medical Practice, Twickenham. His humble nature, expertise and dedication to his profession have lead to him being well-known and loved throughout the community. Despite the fact his retirement is imminent, the positive impact he has had on the people he has cared for and worked with will never be forgotten.

By Eleanor Kate Duce, Gumley House Convent School