Sunday, November 17, 2013

Putting Lie to the Myth

I recently had the audacity (according to some patients) to take ten days off and go on holiday with my wife. Astonishingly, when I arrived back in the UK, I found that my aeroplane had become a time machine. I had not simply switched time zones, but was greeted by newspaper headlines proclaiming that GPs were to be tasked with providing 24-hour care, and that the concept of the ‘family doctor’ was going to be revived. I had gone back not just ten years or so, but a few generations, for there was even mention of Dr Finlay.

For the youngest of my readers, Dr Finlay was the leading character in a BBC television series from the 1960s. The stories were based on A J Cronin’s novella called Country Doctor; itself based on fictitious tales of medical practice in a small Scottish town in the 1920s. So, Dr Finlay was a mythological character, and one whose style of practice is a century out of date. A myth is, of course, a traditional story concerning a widely held false belief, a fictitious person or thing. The poet, W B Yeats, wrote of the folly of believing in such stories in his poem ‘A Coat’: ‘I made my song a coat/Covered with embroideries/Out of old mythologies/From heel to throat;/But the fools caught it/Wore it in the world’s eye/As though they’d wrought it./Song, let them take it,/For there’s more enterprise/In walking naked.’

Well, the present Secretary of State for Health, Mr Jeremy Hunt, appears to have a new coat. It may look fine in many people’s eyes, but I predict it will leave him looking foolish when the truth is realised and reality is seen for what it is. Somebody needs to tell Mr Hunt that Dr Finlay is not only dead, his real-life counterparts practised medicine at a time of home visits on horse-back, when medicines were tinctures of coloured water, and the sun shone from May to September.

Now, I am sure that I speak on behalf of all my colleagues when I say that we strongly believe that everyone deserves good out-of-hours medical care. Nobody wishes to deny anyone that service, and it is what we need to strive for. However, it cannot be provided by a GP who has already worked a 12-hour day; therein lays danger for everyone. So the first myth to go is that of the ‘family doctor’. Even if GPs were to provide the care, it would still be a miracle if you saw your ‘own’ doctor.

Training more doctors to become GPs is a good start, and that must be supported by increased funding to allow them to be sensibly employed within a 24-hour service. Sadly, such an influx will be many years off. So, Mr Hunt, let us start talking sensibly about the problem; which means dropping the myth-speak, and not simply dumping the problem onto General Practice without giving us the tools to do the job properly. Our patients, your constituents, deserve more than fables and buck-passing.

First published in the Scunthorpe Telegraph, 12 June 2013
© Copyright Robert M Jaggs-Fowler 2013

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