Category Archives: Health

Hello, is anybody there? Talk to me………

If we can’t communicate with each other, what hope have we?

This week, a junior colleague approached me in a very distressed state, because she had received a complaint.

Now, complaints are an unpleasant reality of working in medicine.  We all strive to avoid them and, hopefully, they are infrequent, but most healthcare professionals will have to deal with a complaint at some stage in their working lives. They are a distressing experience for all concerned and I include the patients in that comment, as well as for the healthcare professional and often the wider healthcare team, causing cognitive, physical, emotional and behavioural illness to a greater or lesser degree, depending on the severity of the complaint and the processes surrounding its resolution.

We all have systems in place for dealing with complaints, from the practical responses to the reflective requirements to make sure that issues don’t recur and, indeed, appropriate management of complaints is a vital aspect of clinical care.

A complaint from a patient is usually based on a lack of communication, misinformation or misunderstanding. Sometimes it is about poor care. Whatever the cause of the complaint, it reflects a breakdown in the consultation process and, more often than not,  discussion between the doctor and the patient results in successful resolution of the problem. In those instances, where adequate resolution does not occur, there are alternative avenues for pursuing the complaint, such as the CCG or the GMC.

A complaint from a medical colleague is a whole different ball game. Knowing the emotional trauma that complaints cause, when a medical colleague complains, casting doubt on your medical ability or expertise, it must be serious; it bites into the very heart of your medical professionalism.

This complaint was from a local consultant. It took the form of a courtesy letter (or should I say cursory) letter advising the doctor that a formal complaint had been made to the GMC and NHS England because of medical concerns. No discussion had been had with the doctor, nor the senior partner at the practice. It hadn’t been raised with the CCG, nor with the hospital administrative or clinical board.

The foundation of the complaint was that a prescription had been issued without a face to face consultation. The patient concerned had not been unhappy with this process, but the consultant had felt that it was an absolute failing in medical process and procedure and had felt it necessary to go straight to the GMC.

Since the Mid Staffs scandal, identifying poor medical care has quite rightly been high on the medical and public agenda. It is essential that poor care is challenged, but processes need to be followed. If this particular consultant had followed normal procedures, the situation that led to a prescription being generated could have been discussed and better understood. Moreover, what this incident highlighted to me was the lack of understanding that we have of each other’s work environments.

A huge proportion of General Practice consultations now take place over the phone and prescriptions are often generated accordingly. This particular situation certainly was not a one-off, but a regular everyday occurrence. When a Primary Care clinician generates a prescription without a face-to-face appointment, it is done in a number of clinical situations and for a number of reasons, including patient choice and convenience and in order to deal with increasing demand – it is simply not possible for all consultations to be in the surgery setting. Of course I’m not advocating telephone prescribing without appropriate and due consideration, but in many situations – such as this – it is useful and entirely justifiable.

If you are a follower of my Twitter stream, you will see that I am a great advocate of inter-colleague communication. I am convinced that if we have a better understanding of each other’s workloads and systems, then we can improve patient pathways. We need to work together, not in isolation, to enhance and redesign patient services and for that we need to talk to each other.

This complaint was generated by a lack of understanding of the current way that much of primary care is delivered and, with inter-colleague communication, could have been avoided.

So come on General Practice and Secondary Care, stop being ‘islands’, let’s put the holier than thou attitudes to bed. Can we get off our backsides and start communicating?


Bloody Women

It’s not often that I’m speechless, but credit where credit’s due, the esteemed Professor Meirion Thomas managed to silence this gobby female this week (for a few minutes anyway). The aforementioned, brave, though some might say, foolhardy soul, was standing up, courtesy of that paragon of English journalism, the DM (like Voldemort, I dare not say its name) and was waging war on female doctors, female GPs in particular.

I won’t dignify the piece by linking it, but a few of its pertinent quotes include:

“By 2017, for the first time, there will be more female than male doctors in the United Kingdom.”

“I fear this gender imbalance is already having a negative effect on the NHS. The reason is that most female doctors end up working part-time — usually in general practice — and then retire early.”

“Given that the cost of training a doctor is at least £500,000, are taxpayers getting the best return on their investment?”

“In truth, general practice is organised for the convenience of doctors — particularly, I suspect, for female GPs — and not their patients.
No wonder many people, faced with a medical problem, ignore their local surgery and go straight to A&E — one reason why emergency medical services are at breaking point.
The problems with A&E are very much in the public eye. Not so the issue of part-time working — but it certainly should be, as it is linked.”

You can’t argue with the statistics; there are more women than men who work part-time and yes there are more women than men in General Practice, but it is for the time being a reality that women bear the children and in the main, when it comes to choice, are the ones that take a career ‘backseat’ to look after the little rug rats. Sometimes it is the woman’s choice, often I think, it is the couple’s choice and frequently it is because the woman earns less than her partner. Whatever the reason, it most certainly is a choice, perpetuated by the society we live in and thank goodness we are lucky enough, in the main, to have that choice.

What I actually took exception to, was that there are obviously still bigots in the medical profession who differentiate between male and female doctors. Doctors of both sexes work part-time. Indeed, the definition of ‘full-time’ working in medicine is one of conjecture. I would hazard a guess, that Professor Thomas’s ‘full-time’ working week has involved rather a lot of successful private practice. However, one’s achievement in the medical world shouldn’t be about gender. I consider myself a successful doctor, not a successful female doctor.

I had a rather unconventional start in medicine. I was married when I was 21 & had my first child when I was at medical school. Ok, it wasn’t a planned pregnancy, but it was no less wonderful an event for all that.
I had to take a complete year out of Medical School and on my return, first firm, Monday morning, my consultant said, “so which one of you idiot women has just had a baby?”. Let’s just say he didn’t make a similar comment again and I still got an A!

I passed finals with an eighteen month old in tow and did house jobs, working a full 1:3 rota with my young child. My husband was my rock and still is. We celebrate our 25th wedding anniversary this year. I have always worked full-time and am a mother of three; our choice, our joint effort.

I am no feminist heroine. Check out my avatar. I embrace being a woman & my sexuality, but it plays no part in me being a doctor. My ‘female characteristics’ may make me more caring and empathetic, who knows, but more importantly who cares.

At some stage, we may have to look at work force planning, taking into account likely working patterns, but I hope any discussions will be based on the reality that, for the time being women will not pop children out into vast incubating areas and immediately be forced to return to work, but rather be a considered evaluation of the needs of the NHS and patients coupled with the needs of 50% of its workforce. After all, being ‘a good doctor’ is multifaceted, but what it certainly isn’t is gender dictated………

(Perhaps the illustrious Professor should retire early….)

Proud to be ‘Just a GP’

“I feel crap and don’t give me any of that bloody bullshit about it being a virus.”

Meet Bob, a 49 year old ex trucker, who tells it how it is, calls a spade a spade, doesn’t suffer fools gladly, oh and who not long ago had a heart transplant.

Meet me, 29 year old, wet behind the ears, junior GP partner, fresh out of my vocational training scheme, bar one year of locuming and my first week in the job.

Bob did indeed look dreadful and I was pretty certain it wasn’t a virus. Clinically he was in cardiac failure, but do you treat a heart transplant patient with ACE inhibitors and diuretics? A quick phone call to his tertiary hospital. “Yes probably ok, start some and see how he goes!”

General Practice, Generalism, my chosen speciality, full of steep learning curves and awash with uncertainty. Considered by many to be where the academic medical failures go to live out their second rate doctoring existances.

Well not me. Mine was a considered decision. I didn’t like the treatment of the condition rather than the individual patient that occurred in hospital medicine. I wanted to view the patient holistically, the sum of their complaints and conditions, rather than body systems in isolation. I was told it would be a waste, that I should stay in hospital medicine, but I knew it wasn’t for me.

Lets get back to Bob…. Bob is larger than life, physically as well as metaphorically. We’ve had 16 years to hone our relationship to perfection. He tells me if he doesn’t like my nail varnish, ridicules me if my heels are too high and generally keeps my feet on the ground, no pedestal for me, where Bob is concerned. We talk cars and rugby, have a laugh and chat, his wife and I joke about how he can’t get away from women telling him what to do and then we dally a little on some medicine. Sometimes there’s more medicine than others. We manage his gout, his declining renal function, his cardiac condition, his recurrent urinary and chest infections, his pain, the loss of his step-daughter and his lung cancer…… Yes, when life had already dealt him some pretty hideous blows, it decided to cap it all with the Big Ca!

Found on routine chest x-ray, whisked into cardiothoracic surgery within a week, but back at home and fighting back to fitness within two. That’s my Bob, a fighter and until his last breath, I know he will fight, with bloody-minded fortitude. The only time I saw the stuffing knocked out of him was after his first oncology appointment, when he was seen by a registrar, with his consultant in the next room, a management plan or lack of, given his immunosuppressant medication, hatched between the two, through an open doorway. No introductions, no #hellomynameis, to them just a name on an A4 piece of paper. That’s why I came out of hospital medicine. He was deflated then.

When Bob sees someone in Secondary Care, he politely advises him or her that he will check out the situation first with ‘his doctor’ before he comes to any decisions. I am his rheumatologist, nephrologist, urologist, cardiologist, psychiatrist, oncologist and pain specialist.

I’m not really of course, I know my limitations, but he values my advice and direction. He values my knowledge of him and his values in life.

The mantle is heavy sometimes, but this is the glory that is General Practice. I may be Jack of all Trades to some, but to me, my role as Generalist and above all, patient advocate is never a second rate occupation. To me, General Practice is the ‘Jewel in the NHS Crown’.