A popular South Tyneside GP bids farewell as he retires after 41 years

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Dr Rak Bhalla retires this week after 41 years caring for patients in local practices.

A popular GP has hung up his stethoscope after more than four decades of service to the NHS in South Tyneside. Dr Rak Bhalla retires this week after 41 years caring for patients in local practices, in hospital and in planning NHS services.

Trained at the Welsh National School of Medicine in Cardiff, Dr Bhalla came to South Tyneside in 1986, initially working in cardiology and orthopaedics at South Tyneside Hospital.

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Moving to Wawn Street Surgery, South Shields in 1988, he served the community with distinction for over 30 years, before joining Colliery Court Medical Group in Boldon.

Always passionate about improving patient care, Dr Bhalla played a key role in bringing cardiology services into South Tyneside, where patients had previously had to travel to Gateshead or Newcastle.

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Dr Rak Bhalla Dr Rak Bhalla
Dr Rak Bhalla | NECS

He also championed better use of technology in GP practices, helping to support local surgeries as they made the move to phone and video consultations during the pandemic.

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Dr Bhalla said: "I've been lucky to work with so many dedicated people who have always put the people of South Tyneside first. Things have changed so much, from electronic records to the range of highly skilled people like practice nurses, social prescribers and physios now working alongside GPs.

"My biggest motivation has always been to get services working together for the patient in a personalised way, and to reduce the inequalities that still exist in healthcare. It's so important to recognise that our health is affected by wider factors like housing, money or isolation – we need to get those right if we are going to improve our region's health."

Working as a clinical lead for South Tyneside Clinical Commissioning Group and then the North East and North Cumbria Integrated Care Board, Dr Bhalla helped local practices to support patients in a more personalised way with long-term conditions like diabetes or COPD.

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As a result, patients now join with practice staff to look at their health in a more rounded way, have more say in how their conditions are managed and can also highlight issues in their lives that might be affecting their health.

More recently, he has helped to develop a new way to support frail people who are at high risk of hospital admission – with patients able to meet with a range of different professionals proactively, to agree a personal care plan for their needs.

Local GP Dr David Julien said: "Rak has made a real difference for the people of South Tyneside. People often wind down as they come to the end of their careers, but not Rak. The transformations he has led will have a lasting impact on people's lives. He's definitely leaving on a high."

Now aged 64, Dr Bhalla plans to spend more time with his 11-month-old granddaughter, as well as travelling to Hong Kong and the United States.

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