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Patients deserve so much more than to be treated as customers

Dr Tim Heywood vents his fury over the idea GP surgeries should operate like 24-hour Tescos

Dr Tim Heywood vents his fury over the idea GP surgeries should operate like 24-hour Tescos

I am blue-in-the-face angry as I write this. On the Today programme this morning (in the business news of all places) I heard a 'health consultant' (presumably one of the management variety) say I should be treating my patients as customers, responding to their busy lives and offering opening times around the clock. After all (and if I hear this once more, ever, I really am going to scream), 'if Tesco can do it, why can't my GP?' AAAAARRRRGHHHHH! There – you were warned.

The thing about Tesco is that when you go there at 10pm, you don't actually care who is stacking the shelves, as long as they are being stacked. The person on the till needs to know how to pass a bar code over a scanner and how a chip and PIN machine works, but it doesn't matter if they don't have a good knowledge of your past shopping history. Why not? Because when you go to Tesco you assess your own shopping needs, you fill your own trolley and in some places you don't even need the person on the till any more.

Okay, well I'm happy to open my surgery, leave a sphygmomanometer and a stethoscope on the desk and let patients get on with it, but I suspect their 'customer experience' wouldn't be that great. Following the finance-driven downgrading of out-of-hours services, patients have realised what they actually want most of the time is a GP they know (or one whose reputation they know). The reason is, to continue the supermarket analogy, they know they feel hungry, but they would like reassurance that it is really hunger they are experiencing rather than something wholly more sinister, and they're not sure which products will satisfy that hunger most effectively.

Shopping experience

Similarly, the food they then need to prepare can be quite difficult to cook, so they need a highly trained chef to do it and a recommendation as to which chef is best.

They then need to be led round the shop for a personal buyer to fill the trolley for them in case they select the wrong food, and to label all the food personally so the instructions on how to eat it are clear. Oh, and finally they then would leave without paying. If you're having this sort of shopping experience, you would want to trust your personal shopper, and you might just want to wait a little while to get the shopper you want.

It amazes me that air time is given on programmes as high-profile as Today to people who simply can't see the difference between a GP and a checkout clerk. It further amazes me that almost no time is given to the alternative view. So, if we are to open longer, will it be me personally my patients will be seeing? Well, I already work 45 hours a week, so I only have three more before I'm in breach of the European Working Time Directive.

I also have a family life to which I have a right, so Saturdays and Sundays are sacrosanct in terms of protecting that – I hardly see my wife and kids during the week as it is. So, yes, see a doctor, but it won't be me.

The Government has stood the electorate in a sweet shop and is offering them pear drops, pineapple chunks and dolly mixtures but, while the poor public are greedily looking at the shelves, they don't notice the health secretary's hand in their back pocket stealing their bonbons.Customers are people you are nice to because you can fleece them more if you are.

I can't see my patients as customers. They deserve so much more than that.

Dr Tim Heywood is a GP in Stourbridge, West Midlands

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