COVID-19: One Retired Doctor's Back to Work Story

Edna Astbury-Ward


March 31, 2020

Editor's note, 3rd April 2020: More doctors are now being invited back to work for temporary GMC registration.

As thousands of doctors who retired or left the medical register in the last 3 years prepare to return to work, we look at one doctor's story.

Dr Henk Stiggelbout

Retired GP from Wales Dr Henk Stiggelbout, 63, has often described himself as "just an average GP" but with the challenge of COVID-19, there is no such thing as 'average'. He'd served his community as a GP for more than 30 years after qualifying in 1989 before retiring.

Medscape UK talked to Dr Stiggelbout about making the decision to return to medicine


Has it been an easy process to re-join the temporary register?

Actually it's been quite frustrating. Last week I woke up to an email from the GMC. They were restoring my registration, free of charge, and that was the default position. If anybody wants to opt out they can do, and you can opt out at any point. They said they would pass my details on to the Welsh NHS and I could expect to hear from them, and I should do nothing until the GMC send me a confirmatory email. So, I did as I was told, I waited and did nothing for a week. Then I saw it on TV, 2000 GPs had re-joined the register, and I thought, well who are they? So I went onto my local health authority website and could find nothing. And then I contacted my old practice to inquire who I should talk to, so found my local cluster group had a group chat website. Eventually I got to talk to someone in the Health Authority and said, “Look, I'm trying to find out the process here, I want to re-join,” and this woman said she couldn't tell me much but that's very kind of you! She made me feel like I was the lone good Samaritan and I said, “Well look, I'm supposed to be one of thousands. Where are they all?” But they didn't say anything about timescales, and I thought there would be some urgency about this and I have not seen any urgency. So I insisted someone call me back and I did get a call later in the day from the medical director but he said even he didn't know, but that the whole process can't go ahead until it's been given Royal Assent (which it received March 25th under the Coronavirus Act 2020)

Isn't it the job of the younger doctors to care for COVID-19 patients now?

Theoretically younger people seem to be slightly less at risk, but by the same token they all have young families, whereas theoretically, I'm dispensable.

Not to your family though, how do they feel about your decision?

Well, I think my family look at me and think that I am slightly more vulnerable because of my age, I'm 63. So yes they're worried, worried and concerned, especially when you hear the scary discussions about who gets the ventilator.

You are at greater risk of transmitting it to your close family members who live with you, have you discussed this with them?

There's only my wife and I at home now, but no, no I haven't formally discussed it with her. But she's so common sense. We’re not like that. It's almost like that discussion doesn't have to happen, but you've got me thinking now, I will mention it to her and see what she says. But I don't for a minute think that she would want me to protect myself more than somebody else.

Do you think medicine and how we deliver it will change?

Oh yes, this is a wake-up call. People suddenly realise, oh…we can't cure everything, so it is nice to see how people are responding to each other in a different way. People smile at each other and say hello to each other. It would be nice to think that the world changed a little bit for the better, but being cynical, once we get through this we will probably go back to our old ways.

What is your opinion of #clapforthenhs?

A bit funny, because I consider myself a little bit NHS still, and I thought, well am I clapping myself? But I could hear it rippling away and well…it just makes you feel good doesn't it?

Are you afraid?

I'm worried because I've let my brain go a bit lazy. But I see all the messages going to and fro of what my colleagues are preparing for and I think gosh, I don't know where to get my head around that. So afraid in the sense of maybe going to die because I'm in it? No. No I'm afraid that I will be found wanting, but that's just human isn't it? I'm not afraid of going back to work, I'm not afraid of putting myself at risk, I'm afraid of not being as useful as people think. 

What lessons do you think we've learnt from this?

Clearly the world is sick and maybe some good things will come out of all this, and I really hope that not too many people die during this. But there are some pretty competent people worrying on our behalf, but it's not going to be a quick fix.

Editor's note: If you're returning to work and would like to share your experiences, please email us. 


Comments on Medscape are moderated and should be professional in tone and on topic. You must declare any conflicts of interest related to your comments and responses. Please see our Commenting Guide for further information. We reserve the right to remove posts at our sole discretion.
Post as: