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Mr Hunt, your apologies won't help those waiting for surgery - like me

Oxford GP Dr David Triffitt describes how having urgent surgery cancelled at short notice left him disoriented and anxious - and angry on behalf of all the other patients who have had their operations delayed

dr david triffitt 3 x 2

I’m a GP in Oxford and in October 2017 was diagnosed with severe aortic regurgitation. It came as rather a surprise, as my cardiologist found out as he listened to my expletive-laden response to his diagnosis. I have been on the waiting list for surgery since then and was vastly relieved when in December I heard of my operation date in January.

My urgent surgery on the 3 January 2018 was cancelled when I called in at 10am on the morning of admission. It’s difficult to describe the sudden sense of loss, disappointment and emptiness that I felt. The bed coordinator was apologetic, as was the cardio-thoracic secretary. I was nice to them both, of course. It wasn’t their fault but it had come as a surprise, even for someone who works in the NHS every day.

I thought I was on the urgent list and was sure I had been told that I have severe aortic regurgitation. I really did not know what to do with myself. I had packed my bag for a week away in hospital, explained to my bemused three-year-old daughter about my impending absence and mentally prepared to be away from work for six to eight weeks. Naturally the practice and my colleagues have been very supportive, but this was going to be very disruptive for them too. I called work and said I would be in the next day. I felt bad that I had had to take the day off for literally no reason, and worse that I didn’t quite feel up to rushing into work on the day of my cancellation to help out the team.

I think as a doctor in the NHS we are trained from an early stage to soak up punishment, not to complain and to always carry on. But with my patient’s brain I idly wondered how other people might be coping with similarly disorientating news, all over the UK. About how they might be thinking how unfair this was, and what would they do now? Lives put on hold, terrible feelings of uncertainty, resignation and finally acceptance, all over the country.

It’s quite difficult to describe the strangled sense of anger, disappointment and impotence as I watched Jeremy Hunt on the news that night 

Then I thought, it’s not just doctors; the British people are also trained to soak things up, to be phlegmatic and uncomplaining. There would be people far worse off than I, who would be even more devastated. After such news they must both love and hate the NHS at the same time. Nevertheless, the NHS is so beloved that it would never cross their minds that the government would deliberately underfund it for the past seven years. Some people might think it’s pretty decent of them to apologise for all the disruption though, and that the government to their credit are forward planning for a winter crisis.

The fact of course is that they are not, that this situation is entirely avoidable and completely, completely down to consistent underfunding. Doctors and the Kings Fund predicted it, even the head of NHS England predicted it. It’s quite difficult to describe the strangled sense of anger, disappointment and impotence as I watched Jeremy Hunt on the news that night. I’m not sure how much more short-notice my surgery cancellation could have been, and yet here my ultimate boss telling me that this was being done to avoid such an occurrence.

I was back to work the next day and firmly have my game face back on, but I can’t deny it’s been disruptive and upsetting. I’m determined not to let it compromise the care I give my patients and commitment to the NHS. I am sanguine, but waiting hopefully for another appointment. I understand that this situation may well occur again.

In that circumstance I look forward to a time when the generic supportive apology from my health secretary and Prime Minister will be replaced by sustained hard investment in the NHS. Platitudes, cancellations and broken promises will not save or improve it. And yet, as many commentators have already commented, perhaps that is the point.

Dr David Triffitt is a GP in Oxford 

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Readers' comments (7)

  • I'm very sorry to hear that and although you don't strike me as someone who courts sympathy I'll still say I think you are being very stoical and your patients sound like they have a remarkable doctor.

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  • Just Your Average Joe

    Best wishes for your health and hope your operation goes ahead soon and successfully.

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  • Being a patient as a doctor is a hugely enlightening experience and having had a few encounters I hope it has made me a better doctor. For those working in the NHS, even major surgery can all to easily become something quite routine whereas fro the other side it is a (if not the) major life event. The psychological build up to major surgery can in itself be a considerably traumatic event so to learn at the last minute that it’s not going to happen can feel akin to reaching the last ridge before the summit of Everest to be told that you cannot go to the top that day for no other reason than someone has decided that kind of isn’t convenient, but hey, you can do it another time but of course you’ll have to start from Base Camp. And by the way, the same might happen next time, but never mind, that’s just the way things work.

    I can feel your frustration and despair so much and of course you are one of thousands every day. One really hopes that politics will be teomoved from the NHS and there will be a genuine sea change in how the NHS is funded but I rather doubt it. We will all muddle through somehow, get publicly thanked by Jeremy and his cronies and just about recover in time for next winter.

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  • I can only wish you well and hope that you get sorted ASAP. I empathise totally but in my case had to wait 4 years until my spinal cord compression was dealt with having been missed for all that time! Unfortunately I didn’t have the support of colleagues and was labelled as a whining doctor. If I hadn’t had BUPA cover I’d probably still be suffering or in a wheelchair.
    I am so pleased you have support from your colleagues and had an early diagnosis but feel your frustration at waiting for surgery.
    What is certain that if Jeremy Hunt needed surgery then it would probably have been done by yesterday but is he on the waiting list for a lobotomy!

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  • So very sorry to hear about your situation. You should not be at work at all but resting quietly at home until your operation and then a few months to recover. Hunt and co need to pay for a locum until you are properly well again. We put ourselves and our families last to everyones detriment... we need doctors in charge of the NHS not the ...hunts ...managers and jumped up nurses.

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  • A lobotomy is not required for this shrivelled brain of an excuse of a person hunt

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  • An unofficial often quoted statement by Noam Chomsky may explain
    the current state of the NHS
    And also the reason for Mr Hunt’s reappointment

    “That’s the standard technique of privatization: defund, make sure things don’t work, people get angry, you hand it over to private capital."

    Mr Hunt might still be there as the level of defunding, assurance that things are not working, generation of anger and the moment to truly hand things over have not all been reached yet... work in progress!

    I wish you all the best in your treatments and recovery…

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