JENNI MURRAY: My face-to-face appointment with my dedicated GP may prove crucial

It’s come to something when the only GP in your practice available to see you face-to-face is a man of 79 who, happily, also happens to have been your doctor for nearly ten years!

Twice in the past 18 months I’ve had a frightening health scare. I fell, twice, breaking a rib on the first occasion which was dealt with quickly in the local A&E department.

The second time resulted in nothing more than bumps and bruises, but I began to feel scared. 

I remember that the onset of my mother’s Parkinson’s disease — she was at the same age I am now — was signaled by a couple of similar tumbles.

My GP agreed to see me. He had me walk around the surgery, checked my hands for the tell-tale tremor, looked me in the eye and reassured me that there was nothing to worry about and just to be a bit more careful about tripping over the pavement.

It's come to something when the only GP in your practice available to see you face-to-face is a man of 79 who, happily, also happens to have been your doctor for nearly ten years, writes JENNI MURRAY

It's come to something when the only GP in your practice available to see you face-to-face is a man of 79 who, happily, also happens to have been your doctor for nearly ten years, writes JENNI MURRAY

It’s come to something when the only GP in your practice available to see you face-to-face is a man of 79 who, happily, also happens to have been your doctor for nearly ten years, writes JENNI MURRAY

The next time I asked for an appointment was a month ago when the pain in my lower back had become unbearable. I’d had trouble with it before, but nothing as awful as this.

My GP stood at the top of the stairs and watched me struggling up towards his office.

Immediately, he could see it was serious, told me I needed an MRI scan (there’s always a fear of spread to the spine after past treatment for breast cancer) and referred me to a consultant rheumatologist. The scan is booked for next week.

If we’d merely had a chat on the phone or on Zoom, I doubt he would have seen that what I was suffering from was not just a bit of a bad back, but something that needed further investigation.

I shouldn’t feel privileged to have a GP who is caring and professional enough to do what is, after all, his job in the traditional manner — to be the first port of call in a health service, centrally funded and free at the point of delivery.

Even though I have paid for decades into that central funding and shouldn’t feel my GP is doing me a favour, I do, because he appears to have become something of a rarity. 

I’m terrified he might feel, at his age, he ought to be retiring. Where would that leave me and millions of patients nationwide like who want — who need — to see their GP face-to-face?

We know such appointments have rapidly declined since the start of the pandemic and it is now clear that the British Medical Association (BMA) — in effect the doctors’ union — isn’t keen on the personal touch resuming any time soon.

Twice in the past 18 months I've had a frightening health scare. I fell, twice, breaking a rib on the first occasion which was dealt with quickly in the local A&E department

Twice in the past 18 months I've had a frightening health scare. I fell, twice, breaking a rib on the first occasion which was dealt with quickly in the local A&E department

Twice in the past 18 months I’ve had a frightening health scare. I fell, twice, breaking a rib on the first occasion which was dealt with quickly in the local A&E department

Anyone in any doubt about that has only to read the shocking words of the BMA GP Committee Chairman, Dr Richard Vautrey, reported in the Mail yesterday. 

He wrote to GPs earlier this week claiming that they should ‘not feel pressured to return to the traditional ten-minute treadmill of face-to-face consultations’.

Treadmill, eh? And there were we thinking family doctors derived tremendous fulfilment from what they did, enjoyed being kind and caring and getting to the bottom of whatever was worrying a patient who is, by the way, a human being — a child, a woman, a man, young, old — and, in every case, desperately anxious about what may be causing their pain, discomfort and anxiety. 

That’s a world away from the drudgery implied by the dismissive use of ‘treadmill’.

The BMA is also advising GPs not to see people sent by hospitals or the NHS 111 service or take on new patients. 

So what are we to do if we move to another part of the country? 

Maybe just ‘burden’ A&E courtesy of our ‘Amazon Prime mentality’ which is what one GP in Cheshire says patients are doing when they can’t get to see their own doctor.

How fast the insults to needy patients are coming.

Of course, this is all part of the BMA’s on-going opposition to the Health Secretary Sajid Javid’s nine-point plan — introduced following a vigorous campaign by the Mail — aimed at improving patient access to their GPs.

What he is proposing seems perfectly reasonable.

Patients will be given the right to demand a face-to-face appointment with GPs and to facilitate that Mr Javid is offering a cash injection of £250 million; to slash red tape by asking the Department of Health to reform GPs’ current administrative responsibilities, including giving pharmacies and hospitals more responsibility for prescriptions and sick notes, while Covid restrictions would be relaxed.

In response, personal consultations would be expected to rise from the current 50-odd per cent to a figure closer to the 80 per cent plus common before the pandemic. 

Those surgeries that failed to open up their doors sufficiently to patients may face a financial penalty or, as some put it, ‘be named and shamed’.

Dr Vautrey describes this latest suggestion as a ‘bullies’ charter’ but it is what happens in numerous areas of private and public sector employment — a performance review. 

Those of us who need our GPs need to know which of them are doing their jobs properly and which are not.

But the BMA is having none of it. Last week, it directed all 6,600 GP practices to reject the Javid plan outright, and voted to ballot on industrial action over the administration of medical exemptions for people who cannot have the Covid vaccine (which GPs say adds to their workload) and ‘pay transparency’ which requires GPs earning more than £150,000 to declare their income.

However, most upsetting to me is that ‘treadmill’ comment and the revelation that GPs who we thought were committed with a calling to care saw us as simply an irritating pain in the neck.

Have GPs become inhumane in their collective attitude to the people for whom they are paid to care? And a ballot on industrial action? 

Oh, please! That’s all we need after what we’ve been through in the past 18 months —and, frankly, how dare they?

How hard can it be to pop to the surgery day after day — or a few days a week given so many GPs have gone part-time.

Why can’t they show a little bit of understanding to the people — we taxpayers — who funded the £250,000 it took to train them to do the job they knew would bring them a great salary, a handsome pension and the respect that’s attached to the word doctor?

It is a job that comes with a huge responsibility, of course, but I do not believe the lot of the modern GP is anything like the burden it was when I was a child. Back then a GP was the centre of the community, always available face- to-face and there to come round at any time of the day or night to respond to an urgent need.

I still remember when I was aged three, a wonderful woman, Dr MacKay, coming to see me every day for a fortnight during a bout of measles. 

She wanted to make sure I was kept in a darkened room with constant maternal care. Measles was a killer in the days before a vaccine.

GPs have long been freed from many of the obligations they had under the old system. A new contract negotiated under the Blair government brought an end to out-of-hours and weekend work, no home visits — but still a handsome remuneration.

I have no doubt that Covid has driven a wedge between the medical profession and the patients who depend on their GPs. 

But if my marvellous Dr Gibeon — 77 when it all started — could keep himself, his patients and his staff safe and do his job throughout, there is no excuse for any doctor to still be holding on to the ‘Work From Home’ or ‘Consult by Zoom’ philosophy.

Make sure you’re jabbed (like I need to tell a GP!), wear an efficient mask and make sure we do the same. Then get to work to deal with the backlog of those millions who need medical attention.

And a final word to the ‘union’, fomenting the dispute with the Government with no apparent thought for desperate patients. Stop it now.

Yes, we need more doctors, but it will take time to train them (paid for, of course, by us). 

Until such time as they’re ready to practise, do not deny us access to the doctors we have.

Link hienalouca.com

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