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Any excuse for a day off

A home visit gets Phil thinking of taking a leaf out of his malingering patient's book

A home visit gets Phil thinking of taking a leaf out of his malingering patient's book

Recently someone, I forget who, sent me a questionnaire about my working week.

I have a certain amount of fellow feeling for people doing research projects, usually.

I suppose I too, on some level, would rather be doing a cushy number like research instead of a job that is actually useful to society. Research is indoors in the warm, with no heavy lifting. I can see the appeal.

But I get rather too many of these type of requests, and my hours are already packed full of incident. I scanned it to see if there was a fee, and when there wasn't, I threw it in the bin.

This morning, another copy arrived, along with an abject begging letter, promising the information I supplied would be used in some unspecified manner to attempt to improve our working conditions.

It didn't specify how adding extra unpaid work to my schedule would make my life less tedious. But my patient requiring a 40-minute HGV examination didn't turn up, so I indulged myself in 20 minutes of ticking boxes. And it was, in fact, a useful exercise.

It made me think about the way my working week has changed over the past few years - the earlier starts, extra meetings, appraisals and the depressing decision I had to make earlier this year about my afternoon off.

I used to get Friday afternoons off. But in March I made the decision that, lovely as it was, I simply couldn't afford it any more. Now I stay at work on Fridays, filling in forms and doing reports.

This brings my working week up to about 50 hours - well over what is deemed acceptable by the European Working Time Directive, but because I'm technically self-employed our Government has no compunction in trying to force me to work even longer.

Incapacity benefit mystery

A few Fridays ago I had the pleasure of filling in one of those mysterious incapacity benefit forms. You know the ones. Sometimes they ask legitimate questions about a patient with a genuine illness, but often they are asking about some apparently completely fit 23-year-old with no medical history who hasn't attended the practice for years. We get loads of these. How do these people end up on incapacity benefit in the first place? It's a total mystery to me.

Anyway, I scrawled 'No apparent illness or incapacity' over his questionnaire, and a few weeks later found myself called to his house in an apparent revenge attack for scuppering his state-funded utopia.

The back pain was obviously feigned (note to malingerers: don't writhe around like a broken-backed snake if you want me to believe you have a slipped disc) and I recorded as much in the notes, but the visit was instructive for the insight it gave me into his lifestyle.

He was moaning and groaning on a huge white leather sofa, in front of a vast flat-screen TV and stereo that would not have been out of place in a small cinema. The rest of the house was a dog-hair and cigarette-ash nightmare, but the obvious focus and centre of his existence was state-of-the-art. And yet he had never worked an hour in his life.

I'd probably get bored after a while, just lying in comfort and watching telly all day with nothing but lager and fast food to sustain me. But sometimes, in the middle of a busy surgery, with phone calls interrupting me, emergency extras piling up alarmingly and colleagues knocking on the door for advice, I occasionally wonder if it might be worth giving it a go.

Actually, now I come to think of it, my back is killing me. I think I might have to go off on the sick.

Dr Phil Peverley is a GP in Sunderland

Any excuse for a day off

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