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If the research is correct about interruptions, it'll take Phil 18 months to do a day's work - unless he's interrupted

If the research is correct about interruptions, it'll take Phil 18 months to do a day's work - unless he's interrupted

Recent research from the University of the Bleeding Obvious has demonstrated that nothing interrupts the thought processes of a worker like an interruption. You might have thought this was relatively self-evident, but someone somewhere has gained a cushy little tenure by establishing scientifically, with graphs and pie charts, that a person who is concentrating on a task and is interrupted will not get their mind refocused on the job in hand for an average of 31 minutes.

Hang on… phone… won't be a minute… now, where was I?

Ah yes, interruptions. It's difficult to imagine a profession that requires more concentration than this one. Oh, all right, air traffic control and brain surgery, but they have built-in protection from interfering busybodies. Nobody taps a neurosurgeon on the shoulder when he's deep in someone's pineal gland and says: 'Sorry to interrupt, doctor…'

GPs, however, have to be the most interrupted professionals in the history of time and space, ever. Not one single GP in the entire history of the NHS has ever gone 30 minutes without some unwelcome, uninvited outside obtrusion. If it were true that it takes 31 minutes to get back on track, and obviously it isn't, it would take me nearly 18 months to do one day's work.

Just a moment… mobile… talk among yourselves for a moment… 'No, I don't want to do a survey, thank you.' Idiot.

The number of ways in which advancing technology enables me to be interrupted increases exponentially. There's the phone, obviously, and the mobile. I have two separate and absurdly fecund email inboxes that would absorb an entire working week if I ever opened them.

Incessant flashing

On EMIS, our practice computer system, there is a wildly irritating message system that flashes an orange light at me when someone wants to gain my attention. The nagging incessant flashing bores at my brain. Mrs Jones is telling me about her migraine and suddenly flash flash flash and I can't hear a word she is saying.

Then there's a knock on the door. 'Just me, Dr Pev,' says our practice nurse. 'Won't take a second, but Mrs Bedford has run out of her pills, can you just sign this script?' 'Sorry, love, I'm in your way' and through barges my registrar with an urgent query about diabetes.

Diabetes? How would I know?

I don't have time to answer her because haematology rings. The technician refuses to give this morbid portent of severe anaemia to anyone other than a qualified practitioner, even though I've never met the patient. Someone has a haemoglobin of 6.5 and it's my responsibility now.

Technically I've just suffered an interruption of an interruption of an interruption of an interruption, and I have a vague suspicion I may be going mad.

'What about my migraine, doctor?' says Mrs Jones, once we are alone again.

'I'm sorry about this, but due to circumstances beyond my control, I have absolutely no idea who you are or why you're here. I suggest you try coming back into the room in 31 minutes' time.'

Dr Phil Peverley is a GP in Sunderland

Phil Peverley

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