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How the NHS manages to waste its own time

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So, perfectly nice, reasonable lady phones 111 because of her not nice, unreasonably painful knee. She is aware that it’s nothing catastrophic because she’s not injured it and it’s not that bad – but just bad enough to seek some help from a ‘highly trained adviser, supported by healthcare professionals’, to quote the NHS 111 website blurb.

Those who don’t really know what they’re doing have given a semblance of action by shifting the problem 

Expecting a plausible explanation and some simple advice about NSAID gel to help her limp her way through the day, she is amazed to be directed immediately to A&E. She thinks it odd, realising it’s neither accident nor emergency, but, hey, highly trained advice supported by healthcare professionals is there to be followed, right?

So she does as she is told. And at A&E she is seen by someone whose exact qualification is unclear but who is obviously qualified enough to tell her she needs some urgent physiotherapy, and that the way to get this is to see her GP asap.

And that, of course, is why she is sitting, apologetically, in front of me in my emergency surgery. From 111 to A&E to me to physio. Typically, given the current system, those who don’t really know what they’re doing have given a semblance of action simply by shifting the problem elsewhere.

I give her a plausible explanation and some NSAID gel. You can see the pain in her face, pain much worse than that in her knee, pain which betrays that she is aware of how she has inadvertently become complicit in why the NHS is falling apart. And you can hear it, too – in her voice, when she explains why she phoned 111 in the first place: ‘I didn’t want to waste anyone’s time’. No. But the NHS has wasted hers, mine and another chunk of its own resources.

Dr Tony Copperfield is a GP in Essex. You can follow him on Twitter @DocCopperfield

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Readers' comments (21)

  • This is everyday in NHS land its not funny cause it happens to us all.It would be funny if it wasnt true a bit like Yes Minister.

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  • Brilliant. I hope J Hunt reads it

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  • Spot on.

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  • Brilliant! How true.

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  • 09.55 - Hunt doesn't read anything he hasn't written himself.

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  • just a joke isn't it! waste waste waste

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  • 'At scale'
    'Best placed'
    'Joined up services'
    ahem.

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  • never ceases to amaze the dazzling incompetence and ignorant/arrogance of political interference in the NHS..111 thought triage was easy and could be done by saving money employing poorly trained people--so getting more profit for the private provider..but producing a lousy service that wastes far more NHS resources globally than it 'saves'..the only savings going to bloated parasitical 'management' of the private organisation.
    sad and a national disgrace.
    the conservatives deserve to have their spine broken on their execrable mismanagement of the NHS, social care,the disabled,(especially--for which some of our dear leaders should enter the gates of hell) ,education ,brexit etc...............

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  • The poor ambulance team... how many call outs triggered by 111.. They get there and not much going on.. but now forced to discuss with the GP.. cue home visit ... look busy look busy ....

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  • GPS need to not be part of any system that only lets the, do anything. Everyone should be allowed to refer on if felt necessary without the involvement of GP. End of story

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From: Copperfield

Dr Tony Copperfield is a jobbing GP in Essex with more than a few chips on his shoulder