Meet the UK's oldest working doctor

At 93, Neville Davis qualified weeks before the NHS was born - and is thought to be the UK’s oldest working doctor


In the year of the NHS’s 70th anniversary, a Hove doctor who qualified weeks before the service was established has yet to hang up his stethoscope.

At 93, Neville Davis is thought to be the UK’s oldest working doctor, remaining on call as an independent expert witness in cases involving sexual and other assaults.

Originally from London, he attended a Jewish boarding school in Brighton. Having lived and practised in London, Dr Davis moved back to Hove 11 years ago with his wife Kathryn.

His first practice in New Southgate in 1950 was a converted barber’s shop. “Subsequently, having taken a partner, I moved into a custom-built practice where we saw patients and trained other GPs,” he recalls.

Even in those early days, many GPs felt unsupported, and dissatisfied with the NHS. “Funds were lacking, there were long working hours and many threatened to walk out.

“I liked working for the NHS but felt the need to expand into other health professional areas. I turned to occupational medicine and became involved in the health of workers in their workplaces,including British Gas, the National Institute for Medical Research and local authorities.

“Then I became interested in clinical forensic medicine and worked for the Metropolitan Police from 1966 until 2009. Because police surgeons were called to certify sudden or unexpected deaths, I saw at first hand the effects of real violence perpetrated by my fellow human beings, and by disasters such as fire.”

While working with the Met, Dr Davis was also called to examine celebrities brought into stations for drink driving. “No names, no pack drill.”

Rape cases he had worked on as an independent witness — invariably now for the defence — had reinforced his recognition “of the importance of an open mind and a criminal justice system that weighs up the pros and cons of arguments, aware that decisions may be life-changing for all the parties concerned”.

Dr Davis was instrumental in establishing the clinical forensic medicine section at the Royal Society of Medicine.

He is also a former vice-president of the Royal Society and was made an MBE in 2000 for services to the profession.

He reflects that “one big difference between the NHS then and now is that today, with so many rules and regulations, the doctor’s individuality has been somewhat taken away. Structured guidelines are largely a good thing but I used to like the fact that my colleagues and I could use our own judgement, individual experience and intuition in a way that GPs today may not be able to exercise.”

Offering “nothing but praise for a National Health Service that accomplishes what it does with such limited resources”, Dr Davis equally has “nothing but condemnation for the shocking waste of resources that has accompanied the NHS since its inception.

“The system leaks badly. Reduction in fraud and incompetent purchasing alone would make a huge difference to its financial status, releasing much needed funds into impoverished hospitals.”

But for all his concerns, Dr Davis still recommends the medical profession as a career. “It is a good way of contributing to society and living a good life.”

Although regarding himself as a secular Jew, he says he feels “very Jewish emotionally and in my attitude to life”. His parents came to the UK from Minsk at the turn of the century and his father was senior warden at the North London Synagogue in Lofting Road, Islington. There were often 30 or more family members at Seder nights and he retains fond and vivid memories of his barmitzvah.

Dr Davis remains active in spite of a recent heart attack, saying he keeps working, “given the opportunity, to keep my brain active. I believe firmly that if you don’t use it, you lose it. Added to that, the wealth of experience that can accompany age is of value to society and should not be wasted. I am not aware of any disabling effects resulting from my heart attack so I carry on.”

He is heavily involved in local groups such as Macmillan Cancer Support, contending that charities need as much voluntary help as they can get — and age should be no bar.

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