Tuesday, November 27, 2012


Greetings from Ambridge-sub-Aqua. Once again the Am has broken it’s banks and is lapping at the back door of the surgery whilst the Koi Carp are disporting with the Mallards on the car park, the bigger ones with a decidedly hungry look about them, making me worry if there are such things as “man eating cyprinidae”.

On a side note apparently Koi is Japanese for carp, so in back translation that makes them “Carp-Carp” which sounds a bit like a stammer. Apparently Koi is also a homophone for the Japanese word for love, which must make for some interesting conversations in Japanese fish mongers and the like.

But, as usual, if you can have a “usual” in a journal as infrequently updated as this, I digress, even within my digression.


I’ll try to get back on track.

Despite the recent downturn in the weather, nothing is keeping the faithful of Ambridge -s-A from our door, and those that can breach the sandbagged parapet and make it “over the top” continue to delight and challenge in equal measure. A week or two back saw two consecutive consultations with diabetic patients about their med's. Both are proper old-school Type 1 diabetics, the sort that go from well to desperately ill and needing insulin in a matter of a few days.

Sophie, the first of the two, is a veteran, having been diabetic for almost as long as she can remember. She has her med's all figured out, is supremely confident to adjust dosing according to her sugar levels, which she monitors by finger prick four or five times a day. By all accounts, and looking at the lab bloods for confirmation, her sugars are near perfect and she is completely well. She has even had her flu jab and made the point that, as with insulin, if you relax the muscle injected, it doesn’t hurt at all—a tip worth passing on the 750 or so punters that will be in this Thursday for the fourth round of our flu campaign this year. I’m thinking of getting some “Sophie Says Relax” T shirts made.

Nick came next. He’s rather less self assured than Sophie. He hates testing and injecting, but then he’s only been at it for a couple of months, having been rushed in to hospital acutely unwell at the onset. He knows what he’s taking and the dose is still changing. Understandably his sugars are all over the shop when he tests them and he’s finding it all a bit demoralizing. He needs his flu jab, so we sort it there and then, but he winces despite my admonition that he must relax. (Easy to say when you’re the one holding the needle eh?)

We are being encouraged to put new patients in touch with more experienced “expert” patients to improve their knowledge of their condition, its impact and treatment in the hope that this will yield better outcomes. Diabetes is at the forefront of this approach and Nick could certainly do with some of Sophie’s wisdom.

The only problem is, that despite being diabetic for almost half a lifetime, Sophie is only six years old, and Nick is in his early twenties. 

(Oh, and yes, Sophie did come in with her Dad, but she did all the talking and was plainly in total control of her condition and its treatment.)

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Florence lives!

As you will know it is my lot to have dealings with the Ambridge and District General Hospital and its mother institution the Borchester Royal infirmary on a regular basis as part of my day job. In this repeated exposure it has been all too easy to become accustomed to their working practices and assume that these are "industry standard" throughout our fractured and beleaguered "National Health Service".
In short I've become used to an attitude of expedient management-- a "sort and shift" mentality if you will, that does as much (well, little) as is needed to "stabilize" a patient in the "Assessment Unit" or if absolutely unavoidable, the ward, then boot them home to be sorted out from home either through Out Patients, or, increasingly often, by the practice team, doing what would normally have been done by the admitting medical, surgical or other specialist team as appropriate.
In part it's been our fault for accepting that this is the status quo, but it's also a mark of a prevailing attitude in our cash strapped area the patients are the enemy, to be kept out of hospital at all costs (or more accurately on the flawed assumption that being kept out "saves" the cost of a bed). Of course these savings never truly accrue since an empty bed is just a bed available for somebody else to occupy, which they pretty much inevitably do.
Over the past year we have had occasion, as a family, to have dealings with the Dreaming Spires University Hospitals Trust on a couple of occasions. Sadly the latest had the unhappiest of outcomes, but the prevailing attitude of the hospitals we have had to deal with, the care lavished on us and the expectation that a patient remains the centre of attention, the recipient of genuine care and attention and not an inconvenience, has been startling.
It has been all too easy to accept that the traditional virtues of caring have been ground out of the system by relentless “make-work” target setting and an obsession with counting things, but looking, as I have had to, further afield, whilst those targets still apply elsewhere, the bunker mentality does not and patients are still that, namely “sufferers” deserving of support through adversity, and not either commercial transactions to be shifted in bulk to maximize income, or threats by their mere presence to the meeting of targets for maximum trolley waits or other nonsensical metrics.
It is probably no coincidence that the DSUHT is well funded where the A&DGH and BRI are financial basket cases, so I can't help wishing that, with the same expedience with which I relocated the "surgery" to Ambridge all those years ago when this blog was a mere babe in arms, I could wave a wand and relocate again to the Dreaming Spires. But until I can the poor Ambridge & District can expect me to be on their case on a weekly basis to remind them of what they used to be about and should be again.
It saddens me greatly to have to say this, but I fervently hope that in the event that I or those closest to me have the misfortune to be ill and in need of hospital care, we can contrive to do so in the land of the Dreaming Spires and not here in apparently idyllic Borchester.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Animal Magic

So, not quite sure where July went if I’m honest. Seems real life might have been just a bit too frenetic. Also not quite sure what the month ahead has in store excepting a week on a costa, soaking up rays and studiously not worrying about Ambridge. Or GCSEs. (Not for me you understand, at least not directly so… suffice it to say I’ll be keeping a number of digits crossed for a couple more weeks.)

That said last week was a rare joy—if not a once in a lifetime event. You see last week we became a tiny part of what would turn into a little bit of history. It can’t have escaped notice that Dear Old Blighty has been having a Sports Day thingy going on. You can tell it’s hugely important because our Beloved Leader has been popping up all over the shop, feting this potentate and pandering to that panjandrum and begging Vlad not to break his fingers in the small spat we’re having over Syria.

Happily he stayed away when we went to Greenwich to see something truly magical. It had been months coming and planned with nigh on military precision. Last Thursday famille Jest decamped to the Ibis hotel in London’s Docklands—right next to the Excel centre where a great deal of grunting and straining has been taking place. We hotelled amongst pretty much all the officials there to oversee the various martial disciplines taking place in the exhibition centre turned Olympic venue. Friday morning saw us up early and breakfasting in their lofty company, but we were not off to see Kick Boxers, Judo-ists or what have you, it was just the nearest affordable room we could get to Greenwich, where the horses were strutting their stuff.

After breakfast we trekked by DLR (a sort of over-ground tube), Tube proper, and then by hoof to the park. En route the atmosphere was extraordinary. London, and especially Docklands, has a reputation that suggests outsiders might not always be entirely welcome, but that couldn’t have been farther from the truth. Everywhere was bonhomie in full flow. The most exuberant exponents were, without doubt, the Games Makers, strange people in pink bibs with at least one giant foam hand apiece, but everywhere you looked there were smiles and cheery waves and we were left with the impression that nothing would have been too much trouble.

Greenwich Park was extraordinary, from the vertiginous grandstands bedecked with the flags of seemingly every nation (and a few that were obviously made up), to the arena itself with its highly ornamented “sheds” for the judges, its little topiary embellishments and its manually operated, gnome height, white picket fences, to the high tech wizzo zipwire camera high above the action beaming its signal to the giant screen that was just a few tens of yards from our seats in the gods.

And there it was that we all sat for the better part of a day, watching horses dance. No really. It’s called dressage apparently, and it has since turned out that at least three of my compatriots are pretty good at it. We were watching heats, but even there it was evident that they knew a thing or two about it, as did all the riders we saw, after all they are the best few dozen exponents of the art on the planet. Each was required to follow a set routine of manoeuvres from trots to carousels to zigzags… even the salutes at beginning and end were marked. There was no questioning the evident skill of all the riders, or the levels of excellence in training of their mounts, but there were a few special performances that stood out. 

Every pair—rider and horse, ran through the routine in the right sequence. Barely a horse miss-stepped—so much so that the twice in the whole day they did there were suppressed gasps from the crowd, who otherwise sat in pin-drop audible silence throughout each ride, reserving the hooting and hollering until well after the end of each effort. And though sections of the crowd hooted louder for their own national team the whole crowd responded to every contestant.

Within all of this there were a handful of horses that stood out. For the others the routine was plainly well practised and well executed, but somehow still looked mechanistic. For the few special ones it was evident there was more to it. I mean it when I say that we watched horses dance. Dance, and float and pirouette with balletic precision.

In our overly cynical, over hyped, over commercialized world, it’s nice now and again to be reminded that there is genuine magic to be had out there, and for the past couple of weeks our little island has had more that its fair share. The spirit of the crowd on the trek home was if anything even more effortlessly cheery. If we could keep one tenth of that spirit alive when the last visiting contingent of supermen/women and indeed horses depart for their respective countries, that would be a legacy beyond price.

I feel privileged to have been allowed to be a small part of it in person, and I look forward to the day I have  grand-kids to tell all about the day I saw the horses dancing.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Communication is the problem to the answer... *

The Blobshire General Hospital
London Road

Dear Dr Jest,

Your patient, Miss Archer attended our unit today.

Presenting complaint;                            Personal


Diagnosis;                                             29E: Gynaecological Conditions – other

Treatment:                                            511: Medication – oral


So ran the letter that wung (or is that winged, wang… er…) its way to my electronic in-tray yesterday. It seems all those hours spent on communication skills at the Big Hospital are not practised in the far flung frozen wastes of Blobshire, or at least not in their General Hospital.

You have to give them some credit I suppose. They’ve managed to compile a discharge note and forward it to the right GP at least, but sadly it’s of approximately no use. At least not as a clinical communication anyhow. What this is, in effect, is a glorified invoice. 

You see Blobshire is some distance from our own dearly beloved Ambridge, and our paymasters are unlikely to hold a contract with them for services of any kind, "personal" or otherwise. So if Miss A felt the need for medical attention whilst there on a visit, her treatment will have to be paid for, after the fact, by our own PCT sending a wad of fivers to the Blobshire Acute Trust. To do this our PCT will require evidence of treatment being carried out, which is where we came in.

Disappointingly even the codes are no help. Our 29E is “Pain- Sensation- other” and makes no mention of any gynae’ problem, all the codes before and after it having to do with various types of limp. And on our system 511 doesn’t even exist, so I’m really none the wiser. Sadly as it appears Miss A was not assessed at all, and had no outcome recorded, I can only imagine what happened to her a few nights back on the mean streets of Blobcester.

Still all is not lost, I missed off my absolute favourite bit of the letter. Without, so far as I can glean, the font being so devoid of expression as to make irony improbable, any hint of the same, the communiqué concludes thus:

“If you require any further details, please contact us on the above number.”

* You all know what's on offer by now. EVCHN to the first correct attribution.

Friday, June 01, 2012

Striking a pose.

In twenty days and for the first time in my career, it looks as though I may be called upon to take some kind of industrial action. Aunty says I’m going to be on strike, but that’s not quite right. If I’m doing anything “disobedient” I’ll be doing my level best to make sure it won’t inconvenience the good burghers of Ambridge, and a great many of my colleagues up and down the country will be doing likewise.

Also according to Aunty, this action is all about my pension. And on a technicality there they have it a little closer to the truth, but if they bothered to actually ask any pertinent questions, and then bothered to listen to the answers, they might appreciate there’s a whopping great iceberg of seething malcontent of which the pensions issue is the tiny bit you can see. Still why let the facts cloud a good argument eh? 

The whole pensions argument is a thorny one to be sure, and for anyone out there in the private sector sitting anywhere below top executive “Golden Parachute” grade must wear very thin indeed. Still at the risk of sounding like a seven year old in the playground, what Dave and his cronies are trying to pull is “just not fair”. They say that pension provision is unsustainable, and yet our pension contributions, you know the pay we have stopped to cover our future liability, pay into the treasury roughly £2bn MORE that the pensions take out every year. That’s money abstracted from the scheme by HMG for other purposes. Or put another way TAX (if you’re feeling charitable) or theft if you’re not. Robert Maxwell did something similar a while back but because he was a baddy it was bad. When it’s that nice Dave, and his pal George, somehow it’s o.k. (And yes Tone and Gordon were up to it to, this isn’t a party political point).

Anyhow, that’s the status quo ante, but now Dave and George want a bit more, and at the same time they want to hang on to all our contributions a bit longer too, since we’d only squander them on fripperies if we were allowed to retire too soon. This on its own rankles a tad. And yet, on its own, I very much doubt it would have prompted my colleagues to vote for industrial action in their thousands.

The thing is, as has been droned on about at some length, both here and other-where, our paymasters and rulers have rather lost the good will of the profession. Tone and Gordon playing fast and loose with the contract started the process, true.  Lansley’s back of a fag packet re-organization after we were PROMISED no top down re-structuring, and the appalling mess they’re making of its implementation (a mess so scary they’ve had to veto releasing the “risk register” for fear of frightening the horses) are way more important and way more worrying to those of us who wish to see a true National Health Service for our kids and theirs and so forth even unto the seventh generation and beyond.

The tiny problem with that is that you can’t hold a ballot for industrial action on an abstract concept, so we are left like disenfranchised barons attempting to force bad old King John to Runnymede on the issue of the unfair abstraction of our lands and chattels.

If you care about your surgeries, your hospitals, your lovely district nurses and midwives wobbling about on their sit-up-and-beg bikes and all the other paraphernalia of the only vaguely successful stab at socialized medicine in the known universe (excuse the hyperbole) I urge you to see past the whole “fat cat pensions” thing and think about why the B.M.A. for the first time in a generation has seen fit to hold a ballot at all. And if you’d then like to lend your weight to the campaign, why not email Dave*, George, Andrew , and your own MP to tell them so. 

If you’d like to do it weekly, even daily till they get the message then so much the better. And on 21st June I shall make a point of being on hand to see urgent cases whether they come bearing hob nobs or not. I’m just saying… ;-)

*seems you might have to write to Dave. 

House of Commons, London, SW1A 0AA
Tel: 020 7219 3475
And remember to sign off “LOL”
I'm told he likes it.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Testing times?

A couple of weeks ago I had the pleasure of Brian’s company. He’d been at the golf club the night before at one of their legendary social functions. These functions used to be a simple excuse for a night of bacchanalian excess, but in these times of scrutiny and accountability even the hallowed portals of the Ambridge and District are not sacred and every function must serve an higher purpose. To that end the committee had invited in someone to do a bit of “health promotion” and offer “screening” before they sat down to their fifteen course banquet with attendant wine list, port and cigars to follow and brandies after the Loyal Toast.  

If you are detecting a hint of irony here I fear it was utterly lost on Brian.

In any event the screening on offer posed us a bit of a problem. It seems that Brian was informed his test (a P.S.A. allegedly) was “high”.

And that was all.

No advice about symptoms, no suggestion of what to do next, indeed no quantifiable information on what “high” might mean in “pounds shillings and ounces” *. Apparently the same was true for a few other stalwarts of the A&D, but fortunately they will be off bemusing their own medical attendants as none of them saving Brian are registered with us.

So what to do now? Well P.S.A. is a notoriously fuzzy test at the best of times. It’s undoubtedly captured the zeitgeist of those men, like Brian, of a certain age, and many attend seeking the “reassurance” of a quick test, on the assumption that a “low” result will ward off the spectre of prostate cancer. And here we run into a few difficulties.

The test measures a chemical put into the blood by an “unhappy” prostate. The problem is the source of prostatic disquiet could be anything on a spectrum from infection through inflammation to cancer. There had been hopes a few years back that it might prove useful as a test for the latter, but the test is just too imprecise to be useful and indeed the prevailing wisdom is that the potential harm of the number of unnecessary biopsies and other procedures that would arise from using it as a screen far outweigh any benefits it might provide in identifying new cases of prostate malignancy.

Needless to say, just because the medical establishment, hampered as it is by a need to evidence practice, doesn’t view the test as a good thing, doesn’t mean, now the Djinn is out of the bottle and the movers and shakers of groups like the A&D up and down the country won’t engage the services of the 21st century equivalent of the Snake Oil salesmen of old. So it is that they end up buying in unproven services from unscrupulous predators, keen to turn a fast buck at the expense of the anxious and ill informed, all from the best of motives. But this leaves Brian with a bit of a problem. Now he’s had a “screen” and it is “high”, but he has no symptoms of prostate disease.

I’ve offered him an examination (not described here for the sake of the squeamish—fans of Billy Connoly will know what I’m talking about though) but for now he has declined. Do we repeat the test, and if so when, and what do we do if it comes back raised again.

He’s agreed to go away and think about it for a while, and knows to come back at any point if he starts developing symptoms that suggest his prostate is unhappy, but I’m not sure he won’t be back asking for a lab test at some point in any event.

*EVCHN for attribution as usual.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Brand X

Enter Jamie, from his Nike trainers to his fashionably oversized baseball cap (I’m guessing it has some other appellation, but am too unhip and disinterested to go looking—but you all know the sort) festooned with its own logo (which again I “should” know, but again can’t really be bothered enough to go looking) he is every inch (or centimetre for the younger reader) an Ad Man’s dream.

Now I know I’m old, and grumpy, and horribly uncool, but I can’t be doing with all this branding. In the good old days, when life was austere—and I mean properly austere, not the austerity-lite Dave and George are enacting, we were glad to have shoes of any sort—let alone trainers, and trousers that came to within four or five inches of the floor without having to have extra bits let in. Labels were things you cut out of the back of your jumper to stop them itching, not “accessories” to blazon every spare surface.

Well o.k. there was the year every red blooded male child hankered after a pair of hiking shoes with a compass in the heel and a “bear paw” tread, but that was essential survival gear for when you found yourself trapped behind enemy lines, a fate more common for the average eight year old back then, when the average eight year old was allowed, nay expected, to play out in all winds and weathers and states of enemy occupation… but I digress.

On this occasion Jamie (who’s closer to sixteen than eight by the way) was accompanied by a worried looking Cathy (his mum) and after a cheery Jesterly “What ho!” she prompted him to roll up a letter strewn sleeve to reveal the forearm underneath. It transpires Jamie’s forearm has a hole in it. Well more a crater than a hole—it has a base. A mainly greeny-grey rather septic looking base, with angry looking red edges all around. It’s around 2-3 millimetres deep, and self inflicted. A few nights before, Jamie and some mates had been out braving the Biblical floods getting out of their heads on scrumpy and howling at the moon (traditional country pursuits in these parts). For some reason they then decided to do a spot of branding of their own, and one by one heated a lighter to a glowing white heat before jabbing it, now unlit at least, onto their own forearm!

On the plus side, in the modern era of antibiotics the resulting sepsis can be easily treated, and the circle is no bigger than the blunt end of a pencil. On the minus side it looks deep enough that it can’t but heal with a substantial and rather ugly looking scar. Unlike the brands he’s wearing now, but will be too cool for himself in a year or two, this one will be for keeps. He says he’s not unhappy, he wasn’t “self harming” in that sense, and that it was just a “lark”, and for now I think I believe him, but I hope this isn’t the start of some new and scary trend. Somehow it feels far nastier that the present dual fetishes for piercings and ink.

Wednesday, May 02, 2012

Nice Weather....

April has been an odd month in Ambridge. For odd, read wet. Indeed were I of a superstitious nature I’d be laying in biblical quantities of wood right now, and assembling a binary menagerie. You see the Am has burst it’s banks and roams abroad the flood plains of Borsetshire like an invading army and the denizens of the quaint Am-side villages are stockpiling tinned goods and filling sand bags “just in case”.

In consequence the roads of the customary drive to work have become waterways, especially those approaching the foot of the Ambridge Escarpment. Last week I sloshed up behind a Clio that was crawling along at a sedate pace in the middle of the canal… er, road, seemingly oblivious to the tailback that was forming in short order behind me.

It transpired as they approached the rise to the aforementioned escarpment, that there was a tailback of their own in front. Or at least a tail attached to the back of a young lady mallard who had, not unreasonably, taken this particular part of the Queen’s Highway for a new tributary to our mighty river, through which she was paddling and plashing along, oblivious to the chain of four wheeled watercraft arrayed in line astern. I can’t help wondering what went through her mind as she encountered the uphill gradient of this particular watercourse though.

There have been benefits to the “wettest-April-on-record”. The lawns at Jest Acres now, at last, have a greenish hue and no longer resemble blasted and windblown tundra. Admittedly most of this greening is of mossy origin, but as you all know I’m never one to complain. And the wizened and stunted trees of the soon to be legendary Jest Orchard have finally seen fit to sprout a few green shoots and varicoloured pink and white blossoms which cling desperately to their branches for a few moments before being lashed away by the battering rains.

Just now it looks for all the world as though May is destined to continue the aquatic trend, though we are told it would need to keep up like this for months ahead if we are not to regard present conditions as a drought still. (It seems the spirit of Michael Fish is alive and well at the Met Office). Be that as it may, imagine my delight when, on approaching the escarpment this morning I espied a hastily hand painted sign reading simply, “Caution! Ducks!”

Friday, April 27, 2012

Roll on the 23rd Century

What follows is perhaps not for the squeamish, or for reading too close to mealtimes...

It is an inconvenient truth, but there are some things we are called on to do that are just plain awkward and embarrassing to have done. Until Dr McCoy’s hand held “Wibbly” scanner is invented we have to make do with more archaic and difficult methods, and en route to that same Star Trek tech we are developing methods that though better than the traditional, are still plain odd at first blush. (Blush being very much the operative word here).

There, how very English of me. I’ve spent an entire paragraph skirting around a difficult topic without saying anything meaningful or illuminating. And I’m risking spending another doing just the same, so time to bite the metaphorical bullet and get on with it. There’s an old surgical aphorism that’s as true today as it’s always been, and it simply states “If you don’t put your finger in, you put your foot in it!”

Men of a certain age, and ladies of pretty much any age will now be cringing and looking away squeamishly. The awkward reality is that there are some bits of us that can go spectacularly wrong, that we can’t actually see, and so, to gain a better understanding of certain symptoms of alarm we have to rely on other methods. These begin with the simple (?) “digital exam”. No, not some clever electro replacement for “analog exam” just the humble expedient of placing a gloved finger into an orifice and “rummaging” (it’s actually a bit more technical than that at the operators end, but I fear further explanation would put us all off our cornflakes). This method remains the gold standard for initial assessment for enlargement of the prostate and early examination of some suspected ovarian problems and can help differentiate the likely causes of some abdominal pains or “funny bleeding”.

Moving along we have an array of other bodily intrusions on offer from the now antique barium studies through scopes for use from either end (though separate scopes for each you’ll be glad to hear), there are also scopes that go up the hooter (or schnozz for American clinicians). The latest innovation in our neck of the woods is an ultrasound probe designed to bypass the bones of the pelvis to generate ultrasound images of the uterus and ovaries internally. All of these would fit nicely into the folklore attending those lurid tales of alien abduction so beloved of Midwestern agrarian types and hairy, wild eyed, science geek conspiracy theorists.

So why am I mentioning all this now, I hear you ask. You did ask didn’t you? You’ve not just read a couple of lines at random and run away screaming?


So why indeed.

On a handful of occasions down the years patients, including one of mine right now, resist the suggestion that we intrude on their “personal space” to such an extreme degree. Despite careful explanation they find the concept of an invasive examination too personally challenging. Mostly, with some gentle persuasion they can be won round, or alternative methods can be found to garner the necessary information, but every doctor carries with them a few cases where this has not been possible, and for the want of a timely smear, or prostate exam, or colonoscopy or other such “space invader” examination, an aggressive disease has taken hold where it need not have.

For these patients, as Dr Neighbour so elegantly put it a few weeks ago, it’s as though they are “dying of embarrassment.”

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

It's all Greek...

Two weeks ago, in mid-afternoon surgery, there was a soft “plink” noise. Only a quiet noise, but such a noise as comes laden with evil portent. Accompanying the “plink” was a flash of the screen, followed by an evanescent appearance of the fabled BSOD* then nothing. Like a heavyweight boxer smacked on the chin by Ali in his pomp, my computer folded at the knees, collapsed to the canvas and tiny cartoon bluebirds started flitting around its brow to the accompaniment of a tweety whistle.

The gremlins had struck with perfect timing, late on the Wednesday before the Easter weekend. So Maundy Thursday morning we called IT. They promised and engineer on next working day (i.e. Tuesday). No big problem as one of our learners was off on hols and her broom cupboard --- er *room* (ahem) was free to consult in. **

After a tranquil and relaxing Easter (yeah right… but that’s another whole set of stories involving fire and sacrifice and tedious little distractions of a similar sort, not for here and now) your humble interlocutor was out of surgery on Tuesday morning touring the Nursing Homes of the district—part of a new initiative to enhance our care of the elderly-- and so fully expected to be back after lunch to find a shiny new terminal humming away right as nine-pence.

No such luck!

Happily we were a nurse down so had a treatment room spare, with a computer in, so 3 days 3 rooms and on with the motley. Except none of the punters could get used to the idea of me consulting in the nurses room and all and sundry developed a compelling need to rummage in the treatment room cupboards for this dressing or that blood tube as I was trying to work. Still we got through. But by close of play still no sign of IT.

Wednesday and Dr Neighbour was out all morning—day 4 room 4 and by now it wasn’t just the punters that didn’t know where they were going. All my diagnostic kit was liberally distributed through the other three rooms, all of which were now in occupation, so whenever I needed to check an ear, dip a urine or test a BP I was off wandering the corridors like a lost soul looking for my kit. Oh and Wednesday we had a student in for tuition with yours truly. The poor thing didn’t know what on earth was going on, but gamely took to entertaining the punters whilst I roamed chuntering through the building questing for this or that.

IT phoned late on Wednesday and announced they would definitely be in on Thursday. Probably.

Thursday we had a problem. Everybody was back in and consulting, so I had a room (my own) with no computer, and there was a computer in the office space behind reception with no privacy. Solution, print out contact sheets for the whole surgery (recent history, significant problem lists, current meds and any up to date bloods) and consult without the “one eyed monster” writing scripts by hand and updating the computer record afterwards. Simples!***

So sure enough two patients in, IT guy arrives to install a new box and take the old one away to be sealed in carbonite and buried in a vault on the Death Star. Brilliant news, except that he needed an hour and a half to twiddle knobs and adjust dials to get the thing working properly. And it’s a one time now or never offer ‘cos he’s got to be elsewhere working for a godlike NHS manager by 13.00 and he’s off to a stag do in Amsterdam after that (you’re thinking TMI right? So was I). So send all the punters home or try to consult in the car park? As I ask the question of our chief receptionist we both look to the vacant practice manager’s office for inspiration. P.M. off for the week getting drowned in the balmy post Easter rains so no help forthcoming from that quarter.

Now I know you’re all already ahead of me here. Office, vacant, and with computer linked to clinical system. There followed what the younger generation would call a face-palm moment.

Day 5 room 5 and by lunch surgery sorted and back, at last to normality. I’m back in my Tardis and all’s right with the multiverse. Excepting the trivial matter of a loss of data slowly gleaned over ten or so years of consulting and only partially and fitfully backed up. And the abiding impression of a few dozen punters and a final year student of my Alma Mater that I’m a bumbling fool who suffers with terminal “olecrano-gluteal dysgnosia”****.

*Blue Screen Of Death

** Yes the Ambridge surgery treats its learners rather like Hogwarts does. Only without the pointy hats and wands and such.

*** In joke in Blighty about a talking meerkat. In all honesty if you need to ask you're better off not knowing, trust me. (Though You Tube will probably oblige, but you’ll really wish you hadn’t bothered. Honest.)

**** EVCHN for first correct translation. (There's a tiny clue in the title)

Friday, March 09, 2012

A good walk

Ray’s been back in a couple of times recently. When he arrives the front of house team find him and his dopey black lab a quiet seat out on the maelstrom that is our waiting room, and instead of the usual summoning by bells I actually get up and prowl the corridors to fetch them. Only the time before last there he was on his own.

The last time that happened it was because “Rockstar-dog” his first and dare I say prettier guide dog had succumbed to a coronary at the relatively spry age of ten. Since then he’s had “Dopey-dog”, who has been a faithful, if far more docile companion. So, with grim inevitability, I plant a size nine boot firmly in mouth by enquiring “What, no Rockstar-dog today?” Ray is of course far too much the gentleman to pull me up on my alarming faux pas, but gently says “No, Dopey-dog is out with my neighbour for a run...”

Our consultation runs its course, he’s actually looking better now than last summer when he was experiencing problems with his meds, and as we finish and I’m walking him back to the pharmacy, we return to the subject of the absent Dopey. Apparently the neighbour purloins him now and again to prowl the perimeter of the local golf course, seeking out strays. Stray golf balls that is. It turns out the neighbour is a devotee of the “good walk spoiled”.

Happily the quote stays firmly in my head, as Ray inquires if I play myself. I have to sheepishly admit I do not. I know it’s something of a cardinal sin for a chap of my tender years and noble profession not to play, but I never really saw the point. At my admission Rays face lights up in recollection—“You really should you know, it’s a great game. I used to love it, back before the arthritis got me.”

Now Ray is almost to the day ten years my senior, and the arthritis well and truly got him a good three and a tad decades ago. Anything that sparks such an evidently joyful reaction on reminiscence can’t be all bad, can it? So now I’m beginning to wonder if I’m missing out on something. Not that I’m sure I’ve got the time for a new pursuit just now, but that’s another story.

And yes, Dopey-dog was back next visit, and still in need of guiding, by me, to my room, the room he’s been coming to four or five times a year for most of his adult life while he’s been “guiding” Ray. But it seems the both of them know their way around a golf course better than I’m ever likely to.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Something something Dark Side....

I can’t quite believe I’ve done this, but after a small discussion piece courtesy of Aunty this morning (Radio 4 Today programme to be exact—where else?) I’ve just toddled over to the dark side for a peek at “Conservative Home”. It’s a scary place for a dyed in the wool pinko liberal like myself, but Tim (the proprietor of same—apparently that’s how his punters like to name him) has woken up far too late in the game, to the unpopularity of the Health and Social Care Bill. Well done Timbo. Trouble is you’re a couple of years late and a tad more than a dollar short (roughly £20 Billion in modern nomenclature).

The reality is, whether Dave ditches Nutter Lansley (the Fred Dibnah of NHS restructuring) or no, the damage is already done. The changes our esteemed Health Secretary wanted made have been enacted by fiat, un-trialled and unchallenged and there’s no turning the clock back now, Bill or no Bill the NHS must restructure because he’s already blown to tiny pieces the bodies that were running the fractured health economies that made up the hopelessly balkanized soi-disant “National” Health Service. With PCTs de facto abolished and Commissioning Groups champing at the bit to take over (but still in our locale hopelessly ill equipped and un-resourced), Dave and the soaraway success that is our coalition can fiddle all they like. Rome is well and truly ablaze and we can only await the Phoenix that will arise from her ashes.

Tim’s article and the opinions of his various commenters just go to show how utterly our political class fails to grasp “health” as an issue. They can’t resist tinkering and faffing. As I’ve argued before it would be impossible for them. It’s not their fault, and it’s not particularly different under this administration if I’m honest, except in outcome. Lansley has been more radical that some, less than others in his stated intent, but worryingly, he has been let loose to run amok BEFORE fully framing the legislation and establishing the structures that would allow his reforms to take shape. The last time this happened, in 1997, it took us a while to sort, but thanks to the dedication and professionalism of countless much derided NHS managers, and the care and devotion of all the NHS professions, it got sorted.

My worry is that we’re not now the service we were then, and that the dedication and devotion has been severely eroded by over a decade of being on the sharp end of loony initiatives and make-work restructuring, plus struggling to hit unattainable targets, like performing seals honking air horns for fish. And this erosion is far from the fault this administration alone. Indeed though the seeds for our present difficulties were sown by dear Margaret Hilda and her barmy army, they were seized on wholeheartedly by Tone and Gordon and driven further and harder under them than I suspect any right of centre government would have dared.

So if this is all sounding rather like a counsel of despair, you’re probably right to see it as such. It is far from clear what our battered health services will look like when and if the dust settles. Locally our own health economists are looking at a “once in a lifetime opportunity” to reshape services for the future, but I fear even before their plans have been drafted we’ll be moving on to the next initiative— and scrapping the bill will make very little difference one way or the other. Sadly health in real life isn’t like health in the popular imagination—fuelled as that is by dramas that wrap up a complex case in sixty minutes (forty five on independent channels to allow space for adverts for things almost calculated to make you ill). And politicians, as again I think I’ve said before, are taught to think in terms of balance sheets and changes to be delivered in their entirety within eighteen months or at least ahead of the next reshuffle. So Tim, if you’re listening—and I can’t see any reason you would be-- say what you like about the bill and its prospects for Dave’s re-election chances, but please, please spare a thought for the poor bastards on the receiving end* of your masters' extravagant insanities, and try to persuade them to think in terms of generations and not reshuffles.

* Oh and by the way that’s all of us—assuming you’re ever unfortunate to suffer a long term ailment that the private sector won’t insure—like diabetes, arthritis, heart disease, chronic lung disease, any occupational ailment..... well pretty much anything except a boob job** if I’m honest. Oh and especially NHS managers—those we have left.

** Oh and probably boob jobs too-- at least if they were done on the cheap.