Saturday, July 14, 2012

Humble Pie and Drawn Swords

One of the biggest rewards for any writer is knowing that the end product of hours spent slaving away in a draughty garret is actually being read by someone. I was therefore heartened to receive feedback from two eagle-eyed readers a couple of weeks ago, who noticed that Henry V (1386-1422) could not possibly have been responsible for the Apothecaries Act of 1815 without, as one put it, receiving divine intervention. How right you are, and you have my apologies for a spot of poor editing. What I had intended to convey was that, in order to suppress the quacks, Henry V issued a variety of decrees which ultimately became enacted, during the reign of George III, in the form of the Apothecaries Act of 1815.

Having now returned from an evidently much needed vacation, I am reminded of the words of Alfred, Lord Tennyson, who wrote ‘For man is man, and master of his fate’. Sadly, his optimism would seem misplaced today when it comes to the fate of doctors, with another of his lines being more apt: ‘So all day long the noise of battle rolled’. So it would seem from the recent headlines in the medical press. For example, GP Business informed us that Andrew Lansley is ‘launching his charm offensive’; surely a multi-layered contradiction in itself.

Elsewhere we are told that the Secretary of State for Health says ‘GPs have an ethical duty to cut costs’. Now, of course we understand that finance needs to be considered, but for us medical chaps that rather awkward ethical duty to treat patients keeps cropping up and getting in the way, Mr Lansley; but I guess that isn’t a concern that troubles you too much, as long as the budget breaks even. Whilst we accept the need for transparency in the way tax-payers money is spent, I am equally sure that tax payers do not want to be sold short when it comes to receiving the best treatment for their illness. If what I can offer my patients doesn’t equate to what I would find acceptable for a member of my family, then I am not fulfilling my primary role as the trusted physician. It is no coincidence Mr Lansley, that, when placed in alphabetical order, patients come first, physicians next and politicians last; and thus it should be so in terms of providing care.

Whilst I have been away, it has also been decreed that ‘practices must provide online booking by 2015’. Now, that is one where I am sure the proven ability of the NHS to come up with suitable computer software and associated security will not be found wanting. I jest of course. Seeing is believing, but I wouldn’t hold your breath just yet.

That the Department of Health has agreed to a 20% rise in GP training places by 2015 is obviously good news at face value. Nonetheless, it will take a further four years for those doctors to come out of the system as fully-fledged GPs. At present, the number of GPs is down to 1999 levels. With 8% of GPs leaving the NHS in 2010, 22% now being over 55 years, and consultations set to rise to 433million per year by 2035, there may be light at the end of the tunnel in terms of training, but it is still presently a very dark place at the coal-face, and that needs to be promptly addressed to avert a significant manpower crisis. So, unless something is done now to attract trained GPs back into the NHS, or to stop us older ones from running with the remnants of our sanity for the exits earlier than necessary, the current national shortage of GPs will continue for the next decade.

The one delightful piece of news ironically comes from an obituary for a paediatrician in the USA, who only retired at the age of 103. She died in April at the grand age of 114, which lends a hearty boost to my much-publicised intention to hold a 120th birthday party in January 2080. Keep that date in the diary; though at this rate, I may have to couple it with a retirement party. 

(First published in the Scunthorpe Telegraph, Thursday, 7th June 2012.)

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