Born on September 22nd 1912, Hugh Faulkner was a serving member of the Royal Army Medical Corp, during the Second World War. There, he had contact with Communist partisans and observed their medical section’s connection with the community in the liberated areas and this had a profound effect on his views about medicine and society.
He was a full-time local Communist Party organiser for a while after demobilisation from the RAMC but took the chance of re-education to qualify as a doctor. He opened practice as a general practitioner in Kentish Town, north London, on the very first day of the NHS in July 1948. As with all Communist doctors, he saw his role as a GP very much in a social context. Despite the fact that Nye Bevan had not been able to insist that all NHS GPs operate medical health centres, Hugh Faulkner built up his own group practice, the Caversham Centre, long before such notions became commonplace. His centre began not only with a co-operative group of GPs but with a practice nurse, secretary (an innovation then) and, in time, expanded to a health visitor, midwife and even a social worker.
Faulkner was not the only Communist, or progressive doctor, to trail the notion of health centres by any means. But the vision was given much force by his leadership of the small and progressive Medical Practitioners’ Union, later to merge with MSF. The MPU engaged in a long but eventually successful campaign around its Doctors’ Charter to convince doctors’ professional bodies and the government that GPs should be encouraged to head in a similar direction to his and other comparable local health centres. Only with the Wilson government in 1966 was this notion eventually given official sanction and funded to go with it. Hugh Faulkner and his team were able to move the Caversham Centre to the purpose built Kentish Town Health Centre in 1973, a much expanded and now reasonably well-funded version of his earlier project.
Faulkner had not long since married Marian, his practice nurse, with whom he had worked for 20 years. The large vision thus accomplished, they retired in 1975 to live in Italy, which he had loved ever since his days there in the war. Now known widely not as Hugh but Ugo, he joined the Italian Communist Party and became a consultant in primary care to the Communist dominated Tuscany region and assisted with health education in Chianti.
Even in old age, upon being diagnosed with cancer of the pancreas in 1987, Faulkner pioneered new approaches to medicine. Experimenting on himself, he embarked on a macrobiotic diet; surprisingly, the tumour stopped growing and he was reprieved for seven more years. Whilst not claimed too much for the approach, he began lecturing and wrote a book on the experience as an argument for never assuming intervention hopeless in cancer. Hugh Faulkner died on April 19th 1994, aged 81.
Sources: Guardian 22nd April 1994; New Times 14th May 1994