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At the heart of general practice since 1960

Life as a non-principal

Dr Helen Liley doesn't get out much, as her reaction to the rail service and hotel prices clearly shows

Drug misuse gets

me on my soap box

The conference was the RCGP's 'Managing Drug Users in General Practice: It's Not Just About Prescribing'. Yes, I am one of those weird people interested in managing drug addicts and I am on the RCGP's first certificate course in the management of drug misuse.

The course has been an inspiration to me. The structure has been that everyone is allocated to a small local groups of GPs. The group meets a few of times and there is course work in between. Each group has a mentor ­ someone experienced in working with drug addicts ­ and each mentor has a supermentor who, I assume, is a god-like figure who has been dealing with drug addicts since time immemorial.

It has been great to associate with like-minded people who believe it is worth getting involved with drug addicts.

I have met some of the most amazing GPs, whose names I shall not mention lest they should blush, who have had the courage to put their heads above the parapet and take on this neglected group of patients, and not one GP that I have met to date regrets their decision to become involved.

I think I should put away my soap box now before I become over excited. After all, how can somewhere as posh as Solihull harbour anything so base as a drug addict (excuse me while I extract tongue from cheek)?

And how can a retainer make any difference? I am not sure I have the answer to the last question, but I have been inspired to find out.

All that just for

a night's kip?

As a retainer I do get study leave so things have been a little less complicated. It has, however, been quite a feat of creative accounting to make the retainer's educational grant of £50 stretch to cover the conference fee, travel to London and a night in a London hotel.

Not, I might add, the conference hotel whose 'preferential conference rate' for bed and breakfast was £146.88.

What sort of a price is that for a roof, four walls, a few squeaky springs and a slice of soggy toast ­ my apologies,

I mean 'Continental breakfast'? I would tussle with my conscience for days if I spent that on a working night's kip, with or without tea- and coffee-making facilities.

Not that I am criticising those fortunate enough to be able stay in the luxurious surroundings of a hotel with lots of stars, but I

do think the college should think of some

way to even things out a bit for those of us who have to spend half of a month's income to attend a two-day conference.

Conference calls ­ and I answer

I have just been to London to attend a conference. The fact I have attended a conference is quite remarkable in itself ­ more of that later ­ the fact that I went on the train even more so. Trains and I do not get on. The last time I used the so-called rail 'service', the train arrived five hours late, just 30 minutes before the meeting was due to end. I decided that my patience had been stretched too far and I made a complaint.

For my pains I received a few puny rail vouchers valid for six months, which I fleetingly considered sending to the directors of Railtrack accompanied by a sack of anthrax spores. As it turned out the Government

did a nice hatchet job on my behalf a little while later,

but still I vowed that if anyone could ever persuade

me to set foot on a train again I would eat my hat.

So it was one of life's small triumphs of hope over experience that found me at the mercy of Chiltern Railways attempting to temper my cynicism. Needless to say I arrived 40 minutes late due to a body on the line (I kid you not). Despite this I have to admit I was feeling not a little excited. I don't get out much. In fact, travel arrangements apart, I never found it easy to get to conferences or courses as a locum.

Practices tended to book me well in advance, so when conferences and courses were announced I found I was already committed. I suppose I could have undone the locum booking, but who wants to be known as the locum who lets you down at short notice?

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