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GPs despair over innumerate health ministers

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GPs across the country are losing patience after it emerged that the Government still hasn’t quite grasped the meaning of numbers such as 24, 200,000, eight billion, and seven.

‘The list of numbers is almost endless,’ says number expert Professor Candid, ‘and I’ve spent the last five years helping ministers grasp the basics.’

‘When I tried to explain to the health secretary that there are only seven days in a week and that doctors and nurses already work on every one of these, he just chewed his sandwich like a bovine simpleton.

‘When I then explained that GPs already provide cover 24 hours a day, and since there are only 24 hours in a day it was difficult to see how they could provide even more cover than that, he had a sort of wounded look in his eyes which made me want to call a vet.’

The health secretary has always had a problem with numbers, one source revealed.

We caught up with a civil servant who worked with him early on in his career.

‘I remember holding up a bread roll,’ says the former civil servant, ‘and he repeated one, then I held up two bread rolls and he said two, and I thought I’d made a real breakthrough until I held up three bread rolls and he said 77 million.’ 

‘Numbers are abstractions which describe the world around us,’ says Prof Candid. ‘The health secretary might drop them into conversation like the rest of us, but they don’t have any real meaning for him.

‘The number 200,000, for example, is quite a lot for you or I, and it’s certainly a lot of signatures, but to him it’s a bit like the colour Breen - hard to imagine.’

Dr Kevin Hinkley is a GP in Edinburgh

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Readers' comments (5)

  • You have a truly disturbing mind! I will try to get my daughter to register at your practice if she gets in at Edinburgh this autumn!

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  • All is for the best in the best of all possible NHS.

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  • brilliant. i do love reading your blog

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  • great blog again, thanks!

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  • But the real problem is not the Minister. The real problem is us, GPs.
    We do not define safety in numbers seen because of our open Contract.
    Maureen Baker shouts and shouts how overworked we are- but we cannot be because no one has ever defined normal work is.
    Chaand Nagpaul made an impassioned plea to increase consultation times to 15 minutes, but nobody stops you doing that anyway, except if you saw 40 people a day , consultation time would just go up from 400 to 600 minutes. But Chaand never mentioned that number at all.
    We have this lack of numeracy everywhere. We have 4 hour targets for A+E, but no input data in patients, doctors, nurses, beds. We have 1 consultant to 4000 patients in one A+E and 1 to 18000 in another.
    We pay some GPs £ 500 per patient and others £100. Historical, they say.
    But certainly, not numerate.
    We GPs need to define our Contract in numbers before we point fingers elsewhere.

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