Cyril Taylor (1921-2001) was a communist and a General Practitioner. He took his politics into his work and this new book celebrates his life and his influence on generations of patients, health workers and the way in which health care is delivered in Liverpool and beyond.
He was born into an Orthodox Jewish family, but as a young man he became an atheist and joined the Communist Party of Great Britain. He trained as a doctor at Liverpool Medical School during the Second World War.
After the war he stood as a Communist party candidate in local council elections and lost several jobs when employers found out he was a communist. Eventually he set himself up as a single-handed GP and was his own boss.
Working from his home in Sefton Drive, Liverpool, his waiting room (the front parlour) included socialist papers for the patients to read, posters of socialist icons and a picture of Cyril with a huge brush sweeping away the Tories.
Throughout his life he joined the dots of being active in health care and politics. In 1966 he was elected as a Labour Councillor. Over the years he was active in trade unions, campaigning groups and various NHS bodies. He said:
Both as a medical student and later as a doctor, it has always seemed entirely appropriate for me to be part of the broad struggle to change the unequal society for one in which every citizen would have an equal opportunity for education, the development of their talents and the right to work for their own benefit and the benefit of society. (Taylor 1986)
His work as a GP reflected his socialist politics. After thirty years in general practice he summed it up in his book Socialism and Health. “To be a community-oriented doctor means involvement in all aspects of the community’s health care needs, including health education, screening and prevention. It also means forming an alliance with the community to resist forces – political, social, environmental – which make for ill health” (Taylor 1980).
Cyril’s story is also the story of Princes Park Health Centre and its staff and patients, a story of a community working together. One of the great strengths of this book is the inclusion of comments made by the many patients, staff and people who were part of this wonderful collective.
One of the lovely stories is told by Geraldine Poole, a patient who had just had a baby and one night was feeling anxious. She rang Cyril in the middle of the night and he came over (they lived across from the surgery) immediately in his dressing gown and slippers.
His dream was to open up a health care centre which would cater to all the needs of his patients. And on March 17 1977 his dream came true when the Princes Park Health Centre opened. Together with a team of staff including a practice manager, secretary, practice nurse, health visitor, and social worker. The centre offered space to other health care professionals, including chiropodists, psychologists, dieticians and a geriatrician. There were also rooms for voluntary groups to meet up.
Katy Gardner, one of the authors of this book, was one of the new team. She was newly trained and eager to roll out a community-based service. Active in women’s politics alongside Sheila Abdullah they would be key figures in Liverpool in ensuring working class women would get the health services they needed. Another book could be written about the way in which they took their politics into grassroots activity in the city and beyond.
Originally Cyril had an open door policy to patients and they came from all over the city, though the majority were from Liverpool 8. As the authors explain. “This was a very diverse but deprived inner city area with many hostels and small flats mainly owned by private, sometimes exploitative landlords. Domestic abuse had emerged as a previously hidden problem.”
The PPHC went onto to develop policies and practices that responded to the needs of their patients. “It was a visionary practice, born in an era of hope which included the rise of the women’s movement in the 1970s and flourishing community based initiatives.”
The words that spring out as I read this book are “kindness” and “community”. But It was fighting against a downturn in terms of funding for the NHS that began in 1979 with the Thatcherite government which sought to undermine policies that tried to address the social and economic determinants of health.
This book is not just about the PPHC: it is also the story of the NHS over the last forty years showing how so-called government “reforms” have undermined the service, its practititioners, and most importantly the health of its patients.
But the PPHC still exists and this book is a testament to the people who have not only dedicated their lives to the healthcare of some of the poorest patients in Liverpool but who have inspired many others across the UK to follow in their footsteps and bring to life the real meaning of a National Health Service. Everyone should read this book and be inspired that we can take our NHS back!!
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