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Skype consultations? I could be persuaded

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I have to say, I’m always a bit wary when I’m queuing in the local shop and I spy headlines about the NHS. This is most likely because if anything’s made it to the front page it must be significant, which means it’s almost always bad.

By proxy, I tend to feel a bit awkward, as if people in the queue will start holding me accountable for the shortcomings of our health service. The recent headlines announcing the ‘£50 million pioneer programme’, keeping groups of GP practices in nine areas open until 8pm, and promoting ‘forward-thinking’ services, such as Skype, e-mail and telephone consultations left me in two minds.

My immediate, knee-jerk reaction is that this is a bit of politics for the sake of it – everyone wants to see a doctor when it’s convenient for them, everyone wants to see a specialist, nobody wants to have to wait for an appointment, and so on. Such a healthcare system sounds great, but is entirely un-sustainable, from a cost point of view if nothing else. And Skype consultations? Has the world gone mad? Surely someone has just watched Embarrassing Bodies Live and copied the format? Funnily enough, I can see more than a few problems in trying to take a history and examine a patient whilst battling with an intermittent signal and grainy picture. I can only imagine that webcam consultations will necessitate safety-netting to the point where it’s not even worth it to begin with. Patients should instead ring 111 and be told to go directly to A&E instead, never mind introducing another triage service that can’t offer sufficient peace of mind.

My second thought was rather a more guilty one, and is one of the reasons I like looking on Rightmove, or sitting in a café watching the world go by, or going on a home visit (other than helping a patient in need, of course): namely, I’m a bit nosey.

Skype consultations would be great, not to aid the clinical decision making process (I’m fairly confident that would prove disastrous) so much as to have a look at people’s wallpaper and ornaments. Brilliant. As I stood in the queue I was so distracted by this comforting thought that I almost forgot to look at what the person in front of me had in their basket. Almost.

Dr Tim Cassford is a GPST1 in Chichester.

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