TWO GPs who have been partners at a Darlington surgery for more than three decades have retired.

Dr David Russell and Dr Steve Charlton, who were both partners at Orchard Court surgery, in Darlington, retired at the end of last month.

Dr Charlton, who joined the practice as a newly qualified doctor, has worked there since 1983, while Dr Russell joined in 1986 after a spell working in Bermuda and Jersey.

The pair, who have been working part-time since 2016, were friends at medical school, in Newcastle, and were involved in moving the surgery to its current premises in Orchard Road in 1988.

Dr Russell, who has never had a day off sick in his 34 years at the surgery, said: “We were very lucky to be in one of the nicest practices.

“Of course we will miss the fantastic staff, our colleagues and our lovely patients.

“Orchard Court is a wonderful practice and I’ve worked with a wonderful team.”

He added: “It had been planned for several months but we didn’t expect to retire in the middle of a crisis.

"It was a very strange time to retire. In my last week I didn’t see any patients for face-to-face consultations.

“It’s a very great change and probably not the way I want to practise medicine.”

Though no longer a partner, Dr Russell hopes to continue working half a day a week.

Both doctors have volunteered to help with the NHS’s 111 phone line during the current crisis.

Dr Charlton, who plans to spend more time playing golf when coronavirus restrictions are lifted, said: “Retirement is a bit different to what I was expecting it to be. The things I had planned are on hold – but it’s only a little thing in the big scheme.

“I started there when I was 26 and have done 37 years. I’m going to miss the people, but it’s the right time to stop.

“When I first joined it was a three-partner practice and it was run from a building that wasn’t really fit for purpose.

“Getting the new building and being rated as ‘outstanding’ by the Care Quality Commission was very satisfying.”

He added: “The work changed a lot over the years. General practice has become a lot more complex. We see a lot more patients who would have been dealt with in hospital. So the working day was more tiring than previously, but very fulfilling.

“It was nice to see different generations of families and deal with the grandchildren of patients.”

The pair were both also, for a period, medics for rival football clubs Darlington and Hartlepool when the two clubs were competing in the same league.

Dr Russell is still the medic for Hartlepool though Dr Charlton no longer holds the role with Darlington.

Karen Fuat, practice manager at Orchard Court, said: "All  of the team absolutely loved working with them, they were extremely supportive and caring bosses and they will be solely missed.  

"They had a lot of respect for all the staff and that was very much  reciprocated.  Absolutely dedicated to the NHS and to Orchard Court Surgery – although they were always very professional,  it was like working with an extended family. 

"Personally, I worked with them both for 33 years and in that time, they trusted in me and guided me along the way to make me the manager who I am today."

At Orchard Court, Dr Sara Woolder is increasing the number of sessions she works and is taking care of Dr Russell’s patients while Dr Sarah Willson has joined the practice and is looking after Dr Charlton’s patients.