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Independents' Day

A Christmas card can speak volumes

You can tell a lot about people by the type of Christmas cards they send, muses Copperfield as he surveys the practice reception area

You can tell a lot about people by the type of Christmas cards they send, muses Copperfield as he surveys the practice reception area

It's the week before Christmas and the credit crunch is biting. The reception area, which by now is usually festooned with hundreds of cards, is looking a bit forlorn. The duty doctor's desk, ordinarily creaking under the weight of dozens of bottles of mid-range southern hemisphere shiraz, is playing host to two litres of sweet sherry and a box of LIDL own-brand Danish cookies.

But even as the recession bites chunks out of our disposable income, one Yuletide tradition steamrollers on - the ritual exchange of Christmas greetings between primary and secondary care.

You can learn a lot about a department by the cards it sends out. We hope that our corporate card is tasteful, sincere and inoffensive. We also hope nobody notices it's the same as the one we sent out last year, bearing the same pre-printed signatures (including that of a partner who has since moved on to pastures new).

As for the missing cards, the local counselling team have assured us theirs will arrive sometime in mid to late January as long as we submit a properly completed Greeting Request form by close of business on 19 December. The psychiatrists won't commit but have assured us the situation vis-a-vis year-end holiday missives is under review and our priority regarding receipt of decorative printed communications from their office will be fully assessed at a multidisciplinary team meeting.

We'll fax it later

The pathology lab say they can't put their hands on our card at the moment but have promised to fax something over before 5pm. The staff manning the X-ray department helpdesk are insistent that they would send the card over if they could but they're still waiting for the radiologist to eyeball a couple of dozen that have been on his desk since Monday and they're pretty sure ours is among them.

The ultrasound department tell me they aren't sure if sending a card is the right thing to do and they are going to discuss it with their colleagues in nuclear medicine. Meanwhile the MRI scanners' exquisitely detailed example is currently only available to consultants and specialist registrars.

Of those on show, 'Christmas Greetings from all in the Orthopaedic Clinic' appears to have been torn in half and clumsily stapled together and the dieticians are doing nothing to lessen our somewhat stereotypical view of them by hoping their card will 'Ensure' our Christmas is jolly.

The private sector appears to be faring better. A cute nativity scene featuring Barbie and Ken as Mary and Joseph adorns the card from our local private cosmetic surgery centre.

Meanwhile, back at PCT HQ the prescribing adviser's admin staff are busy signing piles of blue and white striped Tesco Value generic holiday season cards, which they insist are every bit as effective as the expensive Paperchase product.

The academic department of primary care at St Nearby's wrote to us explaining we had been chosen to take part in a placebo-controlled trial and then sent us an empty envelope.

Which just left the partnership bank manager. At first glance his card seemed as opulent as ever - it even played a tune when it was opened. Sadly, it was 'Brother, can you spare a dime?'

Dr Tony Copperfield is a GP in Essex. You can email him at tony


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