Scepticism prescribed

Two months ago First Minister Nicola Sturgeon pledged that extra money would be invested in “GP practice and health centres”. This made some doctors uneasy, given that it suggested that not all of the £500 million promised by 2021 would be devoted to the sharp end of general practice but instead would be absorbed by primary care “support services”.

That paragraph provides a nice illustration of how a seemingly perfectly innocent comment can actually be politically loaded. The more astute reader will immediately ask at least two ‘awkward’ questions. What is the difference between GP practice and health centres? And who are these doctors who are supposedly “uneasy”?

The clear intent here is to suggest that GPs are worried about promised funding being diverted to other purposes. But there is no meaningful distinction between a GP practice and a health centre. They are, for all relevant purposes, the same thing. So it makes no difference whatever whether money goes to one or the other. In either case, it is supporting the work of GPs.

What are these “support services” if not the nursing and ancillary staff in health centres who help to relieve the doctors of some of their workload so that more time can be devoted to consultations? Those who actually use health centres will be well aware that they are as likely to be directed to a specialist nurse as to their GP. So additional funding for such nurses inevitably reduces the workload for doctors.

This suspicion that this story is being spun in order to serve a particular agenda is only reinforced by the extraordinary failure to mention the fact that the Scottish Government has, in 2016, created an additional 100 GP training places. Or the fact that the number of GP currently in training has been significantly increased already. Lies of omission?

This is yet another object lesson in how important it is to question everything that the media feeds to you. And we haven’t even looked at what the BMA survey actually says!

On a practical note, perhaps patients could consider how they might help. Not taking up valuable GP consultation time with trivial matters is one obvious suggestion. Talk to the pharmacist first. Or ask to speak to the practice nurse. Unless you are absolutely sure you need that appointment with your GP, leave it for someone who does need it.

And in those cases where you do feel it necessary to speak to a doctor, make sure you are prepared. Decide what you want to say. Make a list of the symptoms, how you want to describe them and any questions you may have. Write it all down.

Consider also the little practicalities. If you think the doctor may want to take your blood pressure, wear a short-sleeved shirt. Or, at least, a shirt with sleeves that can easily and quickly be rolled up. If it’s cold out and you’re wearing layers of clothing, remove a few in the waiting room before going into see the doctor.

Most importantly of all, either turn up for that appointment or cancel it in good time. Failing to keep a medical appointment should be a hanging offence. It is just so incomprehensibly stupid and selfish.

And, yes! I do practice what I preach. I always arrive for an appointment at the health centre early – by approximately the length of one consultation. I recently went to see my own GP. I got there 15 minutes early. I had five different matters I wanted to discuss with him. I had duly prepared. I was in and out before the actual time of my appointment, leaving the doctor with more time to spend with those who actually need it.

My point is that it’s not all down to the government. It’s not all about throwing more money at services. We can all help make our NHS work better for all of us.

Although we’ll probably never stop the grinding negativity of the media and the British parties who are determined to denigrate NHS Scotland as part of their malicious campaign against the SNP and the independence movement.

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About Peter A Bell

Thinker. Listener. Talker. Reader. Writer. None of my attitudes are immutable. None of my conclusions are final. None of my opinions are humble.
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