Have you had difficulty getting an appointment with your GP recently?
Yes, I thought that might be your answer. I won't tell you how many of my own patients tell me that it is easier to find gold dust, spot hens teeth or see the Pope than to get an appointment with me. Indeed, one enterprising patient threatened to book an appointment for every Monday morning and then put them for auction on E-bay. I suspect there are many similarly accused doctors harangued by politely disgruntled patients, so you are in good company. However, having established that fact let me ask another question:
Do you fancy hearing about a local scandal?
I knew the answer to that one as well; so here goes. Do you know that last month in North Lincolnshire one GP was paid to do nothing for the entire month? I hope you are astonished as I was when I found out. Just think of all that wasted tax-payers' money. Does that incense you? Good; I am pleased. Now, before you start to harangue your local MP over this flagrant wastage of NHS money, let me explain.
In my practice we waste two hours per doctor per month because some patients do not keep their appointments. If the same applies to all 110 GPs in North Lincolnshire, the wastage amounts to 1,320 lost appointments per month, or the equivalent of one doctor in the county not working for almost six weeks.
Now, if that isn't bad enough, think of another fascinating statistic. In England, every month one lucky GP wins the NHS Lottery and is given the next 36 years off; yes, that's right: full pay for no work. Honestly, it's true! It happens every month; twelve doctors per year are paid by the tax payer for a full working career to do nothing. I told you it was scandalous gossip I was about to impart.
Actually, I am not really telling you the truth; but the reality is almost the same. If you extrapolate the earlier figures for time wastage in North Lincolnshire to the 30,000 (full-time equivalent) GPs in England, then each month 60,000 hours of GP time are wasted by missed appointments; that's 360,000 appointments. If all those hours were allocated to one GP, it would be the equivalent of that GP not having to work for just over 36 years; and that happens every month, hence 12 lucky GPs per year, at a cost to the tax-payer of some £1.2million per year.
So, next time you cannot get an appointment with your GP, or the NHS cannot afford some part of your treatment, don't start by blaming the doctors, the managers or even the MPs; first ask yourself when it was that you, or a friend of yours, last missed an appointment with your GP.
As for me, I need to get my blood pressure checked. I think I'll go and register with that GP who has nothing to do this month.
(This article was first published in the Scunthorpe Telegraph, Friday 5th November 2010)