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Visionary Ardach GP calls it a day after three decades of service

By Alan Beresford

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THERE was a poignant tinge in the air on Christmas Eve at Ardach Health Centre when they said a fond farewell to one of their longest serving doctors.

Staff at Ardach gather to wish Dr Lewis Walker a happy retirement. Picture: Daniel Forsyth
Staff at Ardach gather to wish Dr Lewis Walker a happy retirement. Picture: Daniel Forsyth

Hanging up his stethoscope after 31 years as GP at the health centre was senior partner Dr Lewis Walker.

In addition to serving generations of local folk over the years, he was one of the group of GPs who was instrumental in the building of Ardach, the practice moving up from Benreay on Seaview Place in the town in 1998. Dr Walker was the last of their number still practising at Ardach.

A socially gathered adieu was organised by staff, with gifts presented to the departing stalwart.

Dr Walker was quick to praise those he had worked with over the years as well as the local community for their ongoing support.

"All the time I've worked in Buckie it's been an absolute privilege to support the community," he said.

"The people I've worked here have been fantastic.

"What makes a practice are the teams that surround us and no-one could've asked for a better team than we have here at here at Ardach. they are first class and it's been a pleasure to have worked with them."

Coming to what was then the Benreay practice was to mark a number of major life-changing moments for the Aberdonian, the first being in his career.

Medical life for Dr Walker started out working in hospitals, including Glasgow Royal Infirmary, and it was there that he was inspired to become a GP.

He explained: "I got to the point that I wanted a better connection with patients over the longer term rather than the shorter term which was the case in hospital.

"I wanted to be with them and their families on their journey over the years.

"When I first started the two Sandys at the practice – Lawrence and Silbergh – were the big names at Benreay. I was brought in to replace Sandy Lawrence and I worked with Sandy Silbergh for around six months before he, too, retired.

"At the time I wondered how the both managed to stay in the one place for 32 years but here I am, retiring just nine months short of 32 years."

The creation of Ardach was to be another huge moment for both Dr Walker and the practice as a whole.

"Ardach opened in 1998 but we had about three or four years before that of planning, it was a very challenging journey but we got there. When it opened it was leading edge in terms of provision and architecture in the north-east and it still is a fantastic place.

"I'm very proud to have been part of creating something like this.

"Benreay was an old, three-storey Victorian building which had served its purpose and was at the limit of the services we could offer patients.

"Ardach has been of enormous benefit in expanding what we can offer patients. One of the things I'm personally very proud of was it allowed the practice to operate the very first exercise referral gym in Scotland here."

Whether Dr Walker harboured any notions of a gentle slide to retirement during his last 12 months at Ardach they were certainly well and truly dashed by the Covid pandemic and the phase 1 lockdown in March.

Prior to the pandemic, he had been the clinical lead GP with the Moray Health and Social Care Partnership for five and a half years and when the virus hit he was on a six-month-secondment to the organisation. His main focus was the attempting the tricky balancing act between dealing with the "overwhelming" demands of Covid on the one hand while ensuring patients with other conditions, such as cancer, continued to receive care.

Dr Walker said: "Nobody had a clue that it would happen at all in the first place or how it would affect us all personally and organisationally.

"You can have a vision of how you think you would do things in a pandemic but when it actually hits everything is very different.

"It;s been a rollercoaster and it's still a rollercoaster. There're vaccines on the horizon, which his excellent, but I think that January, February and March is going to be a challenging time."

Now that his time is his own, Dr Walker said he was going to continue his role with the Health and Social Care Partnership on a part-time basis but has new-found sporting interests which have laid to his time. He has, quite literally, become a silver surfer and has taken up a number of water sports, including surfing. With this in mind, one of the parting gifts from his Ardach colleagues was a stand-up paddle board.

One of those wishing him well was district nurse Kirsty Ednie, who has worked at the practice for four years.

"Dr Walker is going to be missed very much by everyone here.

"He was a very well-liked GP and very pro-active, he was always looking to the future and how we could do things better."

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