Meet the Gosport GP who swapped motorbike tours for vaccine centres

Doctor Wendy Peters is used to being busy.

Tuesday, 30th March 2021, 9:53 am
Wendy Peters at St James Hospital, Portsmouth. Picture: Habibur Rahman

It’s most likely something which comes naturally to a GP who has enjoyed a medical career spanning more than 50 years.

Despite retiring 10 years ago and riding across continents on her trusty motorbike, Wendy is back in her scrubs to assist the vaccine roll-out in our region.

‘Since I returned from my biking trip across Thailand in early 2020, I have been locked up and have volunteered,’ says Wendy, 68. ‘I was cleaning seats in Southampton and started vaccinating there and then at St James in Portsmouth. Now I am vaccinating in Gosport twice a week.’

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Wendy at a Tamil village in northern Sri Lanka.

Inspired to pursue a career in medicine by her sister’s GP who was treating her for hip problems, Wendy grew up in north Wales and was a bright child. She eventually landed a place at the medical college at St Mary's Hospital in Paddington, London, in 1970.

The mother-of-three says: ‘I enjoyed being a medical student. In those days, it was crazy and it was very rugby-orientated. They had an annual rag and one year they rented an elephant from London Zoo and painted on it “St Mary’s Cup” and it went down Oxford Street. While we worked hard, we played very hard too.’

Wendy started her career as an auxiliary nurse and while studying, she also worked at Debenhams on a Saturday and at different bars each night. She explains: ‘After two years at medical school, I was in the top 10 per cent of my year and I was allowed to do a degree in clinical psychology and sociology. I had an extra year as a student in Bedford College.

‘I worked at Guy’s, St Bartholomew's and Middlesex hospitals and I qualified in clinical psychology. We used to treat patients with aversion therapy back in those days, which meant giving them electric shocks – it was very weird and you obviously can’t do it now.’

Wendy in front of the ancient pyramid of Saquara in Egypt.

While Wendy was a medical student, she was also a keen biker. ‘As a teenager I had a scooter. I had two vespas. My first vespa cost £12 in 1968. My father owned a garage and I had a Red Spitfire motorbike when I was a student, which I rode around London.’

After a stint as a GP at King’s Lynn, Norfolk – which saw Wendy oversee her own terminal care and chest unit – she and her family moved to Gosport on April 1, 1982, and she remembers it vividly.

‘That was the date the Falklands war broke out,’ she recalls. ‘In my first week as a very green and innocent GP, I had to help three war widows. In my first year in Gosport, I dealt with three hangings.

‘Gosport was an interesting place in those days.

‘We had our own casualty unit at the War Memorial Hospital and did our own minor operations. I also worked at the Royal Hospital Haslar’s casualty unit.’

Alongside her day job, Wendy was also a clinical teacher in Southampton; joined the Territorial Army, and was the club medic for Gosport Rugby Club for 30 years .

She adds: ‘I was also entertainment secretary for the Gosport GP Cricket Club.

‘All the GPs played social cricket. We arranged matches with the police, the navy, with other GPs. Life was busy but it was a really good life.

‘I joined the Territorial Army. The only place I went to was Northern Ireland and I was there at the time of the bombings.

‘As I was ex-Army, I then got involved with the Royal British Legion (RBL) and was their tour medic because the government, at that time, paid for war widows to visit their husbands’ graves from both world wars and later conflicts.

‘I did about nine trips to Italy and then to Libya, Yemen and Burma.

‘I left the RBL in 2005 and had done it for about 15 years. I got the opportunity to be a ship’s doctor – I did all of this in my holiday time as well as being a GP at Forton Road Practice, Gosport.’

During the late 1990s and 2000s, Wendy says general practice was becoming more difficult.

‘I had been working for 20 years at Forton Road practice and was a senior partner. Things had changed and I left because I was really burnt out,’ says Wendy.

However instead of putting her feet up, Wendy booked a one-way ticket to India.

‘I worked as a tour medic with a motorcycle company in India for six seasons. I travelled across the country.’

As a member of the Institute of Advanced Motorcyclists, Wendy made several friends who she has travelled the world with. ‘We travelled across the USA in 2006. We flew into Boston and rode to Washington, Chicago, did Route 66, down to Mexico, back to Las Vegas through all the parks, up to Alaska and then back to New York. Another trip was from Chile to Ushuaia, Argentina.

‘I also rode in South Africa twice. We rode from Anglesey to Cape Town four years ago. It took us 62 days to do 11,000 miles. That for me was a life-changing experience because I love Africa. It was a safe and friendly place. We had an amazing time.

‘Two years ago, I rode out to the Black Sea on my own and met friends in Bulgaria.

‘Then I rode through Turkey with them and left them in Russia to ride through by myself. I couldn’t read the signs,’ says Wendy, laughing.

‘In January 2020, I was riding in Laos, near Thailand.

‘When I got back to the UK, I had lost my sense of smell.​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​ It could have been Covid but I didn’t know back then.’

Wendy says the medical profession has changed so much since she graduated in 1972.

‘I have met a lot of friends along the way. I have made some mistakes but everybody makes mistakes.

‘I remember I missed the diagnosis of a brain tumour in one of my patients, who was a little girl at the time. Eventually she had treatment, however they remained my patients.

Now that girl has got a daughter of her own. They are still my friends, even though I missed a diagnosis of cancer.

‘I would always get home at night and say “I have done the best I could”. You have to enjoy it.

‘As GPs, we are very privileged. Instead of treating them as patients, treat them as friends.’

Wendy, who is a huge advocate for the Covid-19 vaccines, is looking forward to the day she can return to her biking trips but also meet her eight-month-old granddaughter in person, and not through a window.

She says: ‘The vaccine programme is very organised.

‘Everyone who comes in is so grateful. I am glad I can do my bit to help get the country back to normal.’ ​​​​​​​