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Still sore, after all these years

Phil’s horrified by all the time wasted by his patient’s 17 years of made-up afflictions

Phil's horrified by all the time wasted by his patient's 17 years of made-up afflictions



The bloke sitting in front of me is about my own age. He's a familiar face – we've had many, many consultations in the past. There's nothing remarkable or out of the ordinary about today's either.

‘It's me scalp, doctor. It's very itchy and I get all this flaky skin coming off it.' I look at his shaven head. It looks like an entirely normal self-imposed thug-scalp to me, but I'm prepared to believe, against all the odds, that all the flaky skin fell off earlier today.

‘And this finger,' he says, waving the offending digit in front of me. ‘It's all numb. I can't feel anything in it.'

‘For how long?' I ask. ‘Oooh, a canny while.' ‘As long as that? Does it stop you from doing anything with that hand?'

‘Well, not as such. But the main thing is doctor, I've had one of them medicals and they've found me fit for work and it's a bloody liberty. I mean, in my condition...' and so he drones on.

I tune out, and try to think of something happy. ‘Yak yak yak' he is going in my left ear. For the want of anything else to look at, I'm staring at the pile of Lloyd George folders on my desk awaiting my attention. And I notice the requested report on the top of the pile bears the name of the very man I am trying not to listen to.

Click click click go the tumblers of the mortice lock of my mind and suddenly I make the connection.

I show him my written notes from the very first consultation I ever had with him, back on 6 April, 1994. It was my very first day as a partner in this practice, I know this for a fact because I have written ‘Day One!' at the top of my notes and circled it in green ink (a habit I had intended to continue, but had abandoned by Day Two).

On that momentous day he had attended complaining of an itchy scalp, a numb finger, and was requesting some sort of report for the benefits agency. He finds this hilarious for some reason, laughs long and loud, and eventually leaves without me giving him anything for his ‘ailments'.

But I don't find it all that funny. I look at my extensive notes from that first consultation. It's practically an essay. I prescribed two things for his skin condition, considered a skin biopsy, conducted a full neurological examination for his numb finger and contemplated a referral for nerve-conduction studies, and wrote a report for the benefits agency pleading his case. Naive fool that I was.

Between then and now are something like 90 or 100 consultations, every one a complete and utter sodding waste of my time. He has exhibited no pathology and no significant illnesses, not even a bloody common cold.

Basically, it's all been to do with the relationship between him and the benefits agency. It's unnecessary to point out that, during my 17 years of toil, he has worked literally not one day.

I gain a brief moment of satisfaction by filling in his latest disability assessment, pointing out he is as fit as a more than averagely fit lop, but I have no illusions that it will make any difference.

I will be seeing him again, with his numb finger and his scalp, and his unshakeable belief that the world owes him a living, some time very soon.

Dr Phil Peverley is a GP in Sunderland

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