The Better We Are, The More They Hate Us

Graham Young looks at today's experience when visiting the GP compared to that of yesteryear and asks - are we just too good for our own good?



Let’s be honest; doctors today are crap! And it’s probably the fault of the pharmaceutical industry.

To get to see a doctor, you have to negotiate the barbed wire and the machine gun outposts of the receptionists. The machine gun nest is manned (and I use the word advisedly) by some cadaverous, embittered old crone who’d have been rejected by Genghis Khan for being too ruthless. There she will sit, behind her desk absorbed by her frightfully important piece of paper or the telephone call that is probably far more important than you. (I have a theory that she has a colleague behind a one-way mirror who will ring her number just as you are drawing breath.)

You now have to run the gauntlet where the receptionist tries to evince what possible excuse you might have for troubling the GP today of all days

Finally, she deigns to address you. “Yes?” Have you come here to waste my time? Or are you a patient? In which case you are here to waste my time. Well of course I’m a bloody patient. What else would I be? But you button your lip because this harridan is the gatekeeper to the GP and, like it or not, you still have to see him.

Assuming you managed to catch the window of opportunity between 0800 hours and 0801 hours - when the booking system fires up and fills up – and got an appointment, you now have to run the gauntlet where the receptionist tries to evince what possible excuse you might have for troubling the GP today of all days. (I like to hint that I have something horrendous - a nasty case of lobsters I picked up on holiday, for example).

Once you have negotiated your way passed Cerberus, you then wait for your appointment with the doctor. Who will be late. Even though the previous patient walked out of his office 25 minutes ago. Eventually, the call will come and you shall be Summoned.

I enter his office and he’s already writing out my scrip without looking up. “Mr Young? Lobsters again, I presume?” He thrusts the paper at me. “Take one of these two times a day before meals.” And without even saying a curt ‘good day’, the consultation is finished.

If I go back in time to the GP of my youth, I can compare and contrast the approach. In those days old Doctor Wilson would peer at me through his horn-rimmed glasses and his guttural Glaswegian voice would boom: “Och! Scarlet fever. D’ya knoo, I had tha’ when I wuz yur age…”  He would then drift off down flower-strewn paths of nostalgia as he recounted the various terminal diseases he had contracted before the age of 12.

So what has gone so wrong in the 35-40 years since Dr Wilson? Why do we have doctors nowadays who are so mechanical in the execution of their jobs?

The consultation would end with him scrabbling around in a desk draw, retracting a battered sample of pills and handing them to me with the words “A rep left these fer me. Do le’ me know if thar any gud!” But by that time, I didn’t need the rep’s pills; his voice and manner were balm enough. And to be fair, the rep’s pills weren’t much good.

Granted, his receptionist was still a witch though!

So what has gone so wrong in the 35-40 years since Dr Wilson? Why do we have doctors nowadays who are so mechanical in the execution of their jobs?

Well the chief difference between Dr Wilson and his homespun bedside manner and the humourless automatons of today is the treatment on offer. To be frank, in Dr Wilson’s day, you were doomed. And his measured, professional air of confident bonhomie was cultivated to send you off to your Maker with an air of unrealisable hope and a smile on your face. As a result, his patients looked up to him (“Oh, he was so good when Uncle Bert died of that septic finger…”) and he gained justly deserved esteem. For many, the doctor enjoyed the status of a priest: the keeper of the mysterious, the sacred, the Art. For that, we hung on his every word.

And today the doctor has MIMS. If you stagger into his office with a nasty case of scarlet fever, you won’t get any cheery anecdotes about his childhood; instead an FP10 for a course of erythromycin would clatter dispassionately off his printer. There’s nothing mystical about that. You take your FP10 down the chemists and he will chuck a box at you of whatever generic house gave him the best deal on the stuff in the last hour.

It is obviously not the doctor’s fault. He studied in med school for six years in the expectation of being unleashed before an admiring public

In short, GPs today are there to print off FP10s because they can get rid of you that way. Irrespective of whether you assail him with your haemorrhoids, your strep throat, your wild mood swings or your Ebola virus, the GP has something on his system that has been sanctioned by the CCG. Point, click, clatter, clatter. Job done!

Where is the esteem and respect in that for God’s sake? It’s like printing out bus tickets. Any fool can do it. And that the great medical profession should be reduced to this!

With bitterness comes blame. It is obviously not the doctor’s fault. He studied in med school for six years in the expectation of being unleashed before an admiring public, an expectation sadly unrealised.

So it’s pharma’s fault. If we hadn’t made so many bloody drugs (good ones too!), we’d respect our doctors a lot more.


Since you're here...
... and value our content, you should sign-up to our newsletter. Sign up here

The Patient Summit 2014

Jun 17, 2014 - Jun 18, 2014, London

An integrated approach to patient-centric outcomes