Dr Clarissa Fabre, a GP in Buxted for 30 years is retiring today (Friday, August 25).
Her predecessor Dr Robert Harrison retired after 30 years and his parents before him, who were also doctors, retired after 30 years too, so Dr Fabre is following in Buxted tradition.
She has seen enormous changes in her time in the village. When she joined Dr Harrison he was on call 24 hours a day seven days a week.
She started out working one day a week, which gave him a break, and eventually, as he approached retirement, he took her on as his partner.
That meant they shared night and weekend working, every other night and every other weekend. When on call that meant sitting beside the phone, waiting for calls. The advent of mobile phones gave a little more freedom.
The surgery was a couple of rooms in Dr Harrison’s home and so almost immediately the search was on for new premises which could be the surgery of the future and April Cottage in Buxted High Street was chosen. A year after the move Dr Harrison retired.
At that time the practice had about 2,000 patients and six members of staff. Now – after another move to state of the art premises in Framfield Road about five years ago and the opening of a medical centre at East Hoathly in 2001 – it has 11,000 patients looked after by 60 members of staff.
Dr Fabre says she wanted to run a “lovely, personal, practice, where patients were well treated by staff and receptionists – no dragon behind the desk – in a modern up-to-date practice, on the cutting edge, knowing what was going on”.
She was frustrated when the practice was too small to gain special privileges. In the 1990s, they couldn’t be a fund-holding practice because they didn’t have over 7,000 patients. They didn’t have the luxury of a counsellor, or a physiotherapist, as fund-holding practices did.
“I didn’t want to miss out like that again and now we are larger we have a more powerful voice. We can keep up with any new schemes the Government offers, we don’t miss out any more.”
Dr Fabre isn’t planning a quiet life. She is “into medical politics” and will take over as president of the Medical Women’s International Association (MWIA) in 2019, its centenary year. Women doctors from more than 70 countries around the world are members.
One area she plans to focus on is violence against women and girls, a problem she would like to see addressed and prevented.
Dr Fabre said: “At the moment violence is common with one in three women affected. It is not just physical abuse, it is mental too. It is common in both low and high income countries and a lot is happening in the UK.”
She added that she became aware that the involvement of GPs was important about five years ago. She began asking people coming into the surgery with persistent depression or irritable bowel, or chronic pelvic pain, whether everything was all right at home. She found they would open up and share worries they would never have volunteered without the question being asked.
Dr Fabre said: “I want to get involved in programmes to train GPs how to recognise violence against women and girls and what they can do, how to ask the right questions and where they can refer patients.
“I would like to develop a national programme to deal with it better in the UK, and also internationally, it is such a big problem.”
Dr Fabre is also interested in the quality of the lives of women doctors. She has three children and has tried to be a good mother while developing a fulfilling career.
In other countries it is more difficult. “In America women doctors have a difficult time. In most States there is no paid maternity leave and women go back to work within a few weeks of having their baby.
“In several Asian countries, such as Korea and Japan, if you have a child you have to accept a lower status job, you can’t be a hospital specialist. The UK is good compared to that.”
Dr Fabre says her drive probably comes from her mother, a women’s libber who was still marching on the streets in support of her beliefs at the age of 94. She always talked to her daughter about women having careers so that was firmly fixed in her head.
While at Buxted Dr Fabre has been on the East Sussex Local Medical Committee, the British Medical Association GP Committee, the High Weald Commissioning Group, Primary Care Trust, Cervical Screening Sub-Committee and Breast Screening Sub-Committee.
She was president of the UK Medical Women’s Federation from 2010-2012. She then became the MWIA representative to the World Health Organisation and is now MWIA president-elect.
Dr Fabre was born in Holland but studied medicine in Australia after moving there with her parents. She had always wanted to move back to Europe and did so after a year in Canada.
She worked in hospital medicine and only went into general practice following a move from Oxford to Buxted with her husband John, an academic professor at Kings College Hospital, and their three children.
Dr Fabre did her GP training at Crowborough and was pleased when Buxted itself became a training practice.
After Dr Harrison retired Dr Fabre was joined by David Wright straight after he graduated from medical school. Dr Wright is still at Buxted and has shared the responsibility for developing the practice.
Another long-serving member of staff is Fiona Thorpe. She has clocked up 23 years and is a “fantastic nurse”, according to Dr Fabre.
Fiona is equally complimentary about Dr Fabre. She told Uckfield News: “We will miss Clarissa very much. She is the matriarch and looks after us. It has been a huge privilege working with Dr Fabre. She has been a support both personally and professionally. She has been amazing.”
Dr Fabre says there was a time when she wanted to be a paediatrician but she has loved her role as a GP. “It is a brilliant job, I have a lovely relationship with my patients.”
She is an optimist and looking forward to a future busy with her family, she has five grandchildren, enjoying weekly visits to the theatre or a concert in London, and in her work with the Medical Women’s International Association.
• Buxted and East Hoathly Medical Centres will be giving patients the opportunity to say goodbye to Dr Fabre on Saturday, September 2, between 10am and noon at Buxted Medical Centre. All are welcome to attend.