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Soapbox Professionals? Then we should act the part

phil peverley

Our disability discrimination check-up was like a visit from the Witchfinder General

We've had the disability discrimination people round our practice, giving us an inspection. I suppose we all get a visit at some point. As I sat in reception, watching the bloody nosey jobsworth poking and picking around with his clipboard, I was reminded of a certain gentleman called Matthew Hopkins.

In the middle of the 17th century Matthew Hopkins was our Witchfinder General. His job, sanctioned by Oliver Cromwell, involved visiting a village and rounding up the crones, anyone who cackled, and all those with facial warts. Then, using his own methods, he would divine which of them, if any, was a witch. If he found any, he would burn them.

An interesting aspect of this was Mr Hopkins's salary scheme. He was paid a crown for every witch he found. If he didn't find any, he didn't get paid. Students of human nature will scarcely be surprised to hear that Matthew Hopkins found an awful lot of witches. It was hardly in his interests to report back to the mayor and say 'Well done Sir, not a pointy hat among the lot of 'em!'

Firewood merchants would follow him around, waiting for the commissions. The air was black with smoke and thick with feeble screams.

The disability discrimination inspectors operate on a similar basis. If they don't find anything wrong, there's no reason for their existence. So guess what? Our practice has disability discrimination issues to deal with.

Our practice building is only eight years old, and we built it with the problems of disability access very much in mind. We have no steps. We have disabled toilets, we have passing places in the corridors for wheelchairs, we have low door handles, disabled parking places, facilities for the blind and for the deaf. And I could see it was driving our inspector crazy as he failed to find anything his tiny, self-important mind could complain about. He ticked his last box, sniffed, and muttered 'S'alright, I suppose', and then he left.

A few days later we got his report, pregnant with recommendations. Among the most vital was that the letter 'K' was a bit faint on our 'car park' sign and that we should have it repainted, for the benefit of the visually impaired. If someone is that blind, should they be driving a car?

Also, our reception desk, at the height of four feet, was too tall for achondroplasics to see over. In the absence of a stool, or a lower section of desk, our receptionists were in danger of ignoring any dwarves that might call in. The fact that any dwarf patients (if we had any, which we don't) might either step back a bit, shout, or jump up and down, was not considered.

In a similar vein, the mirror in the patient's toilet is too high for very short-arsed patients, as is the coat-hook. And we need chunkier door handles for punters who's hands don't work very well.

All in all, if we follow the recommendations in the report, it will cost us £3,000. But as none of these problems is major, we don't have to if we don't want to. After careful reflection, we don't think we'll bother.

Dr Phil Peverley is a GP in Sunderland

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