Should Bob Geldof ever need help with staging another Live Aid, he could do worse than to contact Emma Mansfield, leader of the community choir in the historic Cornish town of Lostwithiel and a self-confessed ‘loud and bossy person’.

While Sir Bob wrangled some of the biggest celebrity egos in the business, Emma has harnessed local talents, including many pensioners in the 60-strong chorus, with retired accountants, speech therapists and teachers among them.

This makes it all the more remarkable that, thanks to her chivvying, they have filmed a music video which, following its publication online earlier this week, has already been seen by an estimated 80 million people worldwide.

‘We’re all rather chuffed and humbled,’ says Emma, who has been fielding calls from journalists and TV stations as far away as Africa and America.

The worldwide interest has amazed many members of the choir, among them 87-year-old Margaret Hoskin, a retired hairdresser, who had done little singing since she was at Sunday school and now fits in weekly choir practice in between sewing, cooking and spending time with her six grandchildren. ‘I’ve had friends pulling my leg and asking if they can have my autograph,’ laughs Margaret. ‘I think it’s fantastic.’

Tuneful: The townsfolk of Lostwithiel are looking for their own Doc Martin

Tuneful: The townsfolk of Lostwithiel are looking for their own Doc Martin

While Sir Bob wrangled some of the biggest celebrity egos in the business, Emma has harnessed local talents, including many pensioners in the 60-strong chorus, with retired accountants, speech therapists and teachers among them

While Sir Bob wrangled some of the biggest celebrity egos in the business, Emma has harnessed local talents, including many pensioners in the 60-strong chorus, with retired accountants, speech therapists and teachers among them

The subject of this rather unlikely hit? The town’s frantic search for a replacement for Dr William Howe, the 60-year-old GP who is retiring after three decades of tending to their medical needs in a manner reminiscent of Doc Martin in the hit ITV comedy drama.

 The choir was a lot more polite than the Sex Pistols

That was filmed in the picturesque fishing village of Port Isaac, only 20 miles away. And while Dr Howe and his colleague Dr Justin Hendriksz are both far from the curmudgeon portrayed by Martin Clunes, they offer the same old-fashioned style of doctoring, which must leave fans of the show sighing with frustrated nostalgia.

Remember when GPs made house calls? When you saw the same doctor year after year, with scarcely a locum in sight? Or when you could ring your local surgery and be seen straight away if you were poorly enough?

In Lostwithiel, all those things are still the norm, so it’s no wonder the locals are so determined to find a successor for Dr Howe.

The problem, as desperate patients know all too well, is that GPs are in chronically short supply. There are 1,756 fewer full-time GPs in England than there were in 2015, with many doctors leaving the profession or reducing their hours because of burnout.

One in six full-time GP roles in the UK is now unfilled and practices are struggling to hire new medics, as 51-year-old Dr Hendriksz discovered after first advertising his colleague’s position four months ago. ‘We didn’t get a single bite,’ he says.

‘And when I looked at our advert in one of the medical journals, I realised there must have been 20 pages of similar ads, all saying that they were friendly practices which offered flexible working.

‘I thought “Why would anyone stop to look at the Lostwithiel advert?” There was nothing that would make us stand out, so I decided we needed a completely different approach.’

He contacted Emma, who runs Really Lovely Projects — a local not-for-profit organisation which unites communities with events, such as the town’s annual lantern parade and even Zoom carol concerts during the Covid pandemic. So the idea of a song and video promoting the merits of Lostwithiel as a place to live was born — inspired in part by Dr Hendriksz’s experiences.

Originally from South Africa, he moved to Lostwithiel 16 years ago with his wife, Sophie, who is English. He says it has been a wonderful place to raise their two children Jack and Daisy, aged ten and 12.

‘The children love surfing and camping on the beach, and I just don’t know how you could find anywhere better to live,’ he enthuses. ‘From sitting in my office at work, I can get home and then be in my little boat hauling in lobster pots in less than 40 minutes.’

The song promoting such Cornish charms is set loosely to the tune of Nina Simone’s 1968 hit Ain’t Got No, I Got Life, as re-arranged by 80-year-old guitarist and keyboard player Tony Taylor.

As for the lyrics, we can only wonder what Ms Simone would make of such lines as ‘You can negotiate your terms / if you’ll keep us free of germs’ and ‘We’ve folk with asthma and young new mothers / We’ve limping fathers and snot-filled others.’

This makes it all the more remarkable that, thanks to her chivvying, they have filmed a music video which, following its publication online earlier this week, has already been seen by an estimated 80 million people worldwide

This makes it all the more remarkable that, thanks to her chivvying, they have filmed a music video which, following its publication online earlier this week, has already been seen by an estimated 80 million people worldwide

It took less than two hours for the choir to record the number, and the proceedings were overseen by 75-year-old Simon Fraser, a retired sound engineer who has worked with many of the world’s biggest bands, including the Sex Pistols, Oasis and Supergrass.

‘The choir members were a bit nervous about having microphones shoved in their faces, but they were wonderful to work with — and a lot more polite than the Sex Pistols,’ he says.

Alongside shots of the mainline railway station and attractions such as the River Fowey and Restormel castle — close to the manor where King Charles and Queen Consort Camilla stay when they are in Cornwall — the video emphasises the strong sense of community in the town.

The 3,000 residents of this close-knit town recognise how lucky they are to have seen the same GP throughout the years.

‘I hear from so many relatives and friends who are registered with practices not too far away and they are so frustrated at how long it can take to see a doctor,’ says 70-year-old Norman Pendray, an organic beef farmer, who plays the cornet and coaching horn, and conducts Lostwithiel’s thriving brass band.

‘Then they’re going to see someone they don’t know and will spend five minutes telling them their life history which wastes both the doctor’s time and their own.’

Someone with particular reason to be grateful for that very personal approach is Michelle Nineham, 45, former deputy head teacher at a local secondary school and now co-director of Really Lovely Projects with Emma.

Ten years ago, she suffered what she describes as ‘a significant trauma’, resulting in mental health problems which were spotted quickly by Dr Howe.

‘Instead of just signing me off work and giving me tablets, he really listened to me, whereas the psychiatric services sadly failed me because they’re so over-stretched,’ she says.

Some younger residents have always had Dr Howe as their GP, among them 23-year-old Aiden Hawken, who is featured dancing alongside his colleagues at Lostwithiel’s fire station.

‘It’s really nice to go to the surgery and see a familiar face, and Dr Howe has seen all my family as well,’ he says.

And many in Lostwithiel tell me about the speed with which you can get an appointment.

The 3,000 residents of this close-knit town recognise how lucky they are to have seen the same GP throughout the years

The 3,000 residents of this close-knit town recognise how lucky they are to have seen the same GP throughout the years

Charlotte Ross, 31, has two young sons — last Friday she was advised by the nursery that one-year-old Charlie had a chesty cough which should really be looked at before the weekend. ‘Within an hour we were being seen in the surgery,’ says Charlotte, who runs a playgroup in the community centre with friend Holly Rawlings.

Others describe how Drs Howe and Hendriksz often attend emergencies in the town.

These have included the collapse of an elderly man outside Liddicoat, the traditional butcher’s shop owned by 58-year-old Alistair Blaxley, seen performing in the music video alongside his colleagues George Dean and Tim Knight. ‘I thought he was dead at first, but Dr Howe was here with his medical bag within a few minutes. Without him, he would probably have died.’

Community choir member Linda Trevethan, 70, recalls ringing the surgery when a friend of hers experienced severe breathing problems.

‘They told me to call 999, which I did, and then Dr Hendriksz phoned me back and talked me through what tablets to give him to open up his airways while we waited for the ambulance to arrive. It’s that kind of wonderful service you don’t get with the bigger practices.’

Linda fears that failing to find a successor for Dr Howe will result in the practice being forced to merge into one of the ‘super-surgeries’ favoured by the Government as a way of pooling labour and reducing costs.

That worry is shared by Dr Hendriksz, who believes there are many benefits to being a small practice. ‘In the surgery I trained in, there were six to eight partners, and at every meeting decisions had to be held over as not everyone was there. Here, we decide things very quickly.

‘Recently, a new supplier was offering the same aqueous cream as we were prescribing through our dispensary, only at a much cheaper price. By switching to it very quickly, we’ve saved the NHS at least £2,000 and, over the last ten years, we’ve come in at around £1 million under budget.’ The surgery is clearly doing something right for its patients. Last year, it was voted the top practice in Cornwall by the GP Patient Survey, with 98 per cent of respondents saying that they had been treated ‘with care and concern’ during their last appointment.

Despite such success, the NHS Kernow Clinical Commissioning Group — the body which holds the purse strings locally — refused Dr Hendriksz’s request for financial help in producing the unusual recruitment video.

It was left to the ingenuity and goodwill of the locals to make it as cheaply as possible — a particular challenge when it came to filming an aerial view of some 500 residents gathered in a park and brandishing placards with messages pleading ‘I need you to fix me’ and ‘Be ours’.

The ever-busy Emma Mansfield enlisted the help of a local tree surgeon, who made his cherry-picker crane available — providing a powerful, drone-style shot to end the video.

The publicity has already led to five expressions of interest in the GP position, raising some people’s hopes perhaps a little too high. ‘It would mean a lot to us to have someone who’d give us the kind of service I think Lostwithiel deserves,’ says cornet-playing farmer Norman Pendray. ‘And if it’s a doctor with a brass-band background, it would be even better.’ 

  • lostwithielneedsadoctor.org



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