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Gold, incentives and meh

I can’t be the fall guy any more

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I have in front of me a letter from the A&E department. This is what it says:

‘This 15-year-old lad was playing football on Saturday, and lost his ball up a tree. He climbed the tree to recover it, but fell out from about eight feet and landed on his back. He did this four times. On the final occasion he fractured his clavicle.’

These letters give me the material for these articles. Human stories. The utter absurdity of the behaviour of homo sapiens. The basic material for 500-odd magazine columns, since I first started writing them 20 years ago.

The fascinating thing is the ambiguity. The obvious conclusion is that we are dealing with an utter moron, the type of dude Darwin predicted would be weeded out of the gene pool. But there is another interpretation worthy of serious contemplation.

Perhaps we are witnessing one aspect of the indomitable human spirit. The triumph of hope over experience. He kept climbing and he kept falling. It’s almost heroic. By definition, we only see the failures. Who knows how many teenagers keep climbing and get their ball back at the fifth or sixth attempt? There are probably many.

As I read the letter, I’m laughing and crying in equal measure. Because I now know this experience is nearly over for me. Because I can’t go on.

This article may be unique in the annals of Pulse because a decent proportion of it was written in a hospital bed, with 15 electrodes attached to my body and an IV drip limiting the use of my right arm.

The oxygen mask was hampering my vision and the pulse oximeter had to be transferred to a pinky, because I don’t type with those. But hey, a deadline is a deadline.

The fact that I was back in rapid AF and heart failure within an hour of getting back to work after a short holiday is not, I think, coincidental. The escalating workload, the tumbling income, the futility of trying to keep up with demand, the frustration of being the last port of call for so many problems that really are nothing to do with us; the sheer lack of time to practise medicine as it should be practised. It is insupportable that we are dumped on, taken for granted and held responsible for the failings of others. Above all, the total absence of interest in the vacancies at my practice makes the future as a GP partner unbearable to me.

My love affair with my profession is over. I hate this bloody job. I can’t stand going into work any more. It makes me depressed, unhappy and, latterly, literally sick.

I believe there is some currency in the Government’s ‘5,000 GPs’ idea, but I think they’ve got it the wrong way round. I predict 5,000 fewer GPs over the next five years, as people like me reach the end of their tether. I know of literally no one around my own age who is not thoroughly disillusioned. None of us will still be practising at retirement age. And there is no way we can be replaced, let alone the overall numbers of GPs be increased.

I have climbed my tree and fallen out too many times now. If I was stupid, I would get back up and start climbing again. But I realise that next time, I’m going to fall out and break something. In fact, I may already have done so.

Dr Phil Peverley is a GP in Sunderland.

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Readers' comments (156)

  • You need to get over your disillusionment and soldier on.Your patients need you more than your family.For many of them you would have been their sole mentor,counsellor and friend through the years.The NHS pension will provide for your family but who will look after your patients.Remember why you became a doctor,to help mankind.Stress comes with the job but we're financially well compensated for that.You have no reason to complain.So chin up and march back to your surgery

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  • Phil - you can see how much people love you - it is just bonkers to think they cannot do without you though! What is going on that a person cannot be left to recuperate without being hounded with work?! Work is not the be all but it may be the end all of life -if you persist in playing the hero. Did you not realise how crazy it was to post right now? OK - get this...people love you enough to let you go..

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  • Phil - do as I did - get OUT NOW . Leave before it's too late for you and your family . I just left after 20 years and life on the other side is wonderful . I nearly lost everything in my life and only just got out in time . Please do the same .

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  • Russell Thorpe

    So many memorable articles. I await the novel lets face it the profession really needs a James Herriot!
    One of my favourites the old war hero not content with the effects of his antihypertensives and you quietly slowly, deliberately pushed the pile of pill boxes off your desk &...... into the bin.

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  • Phil, I would miss reading your articles very much but it sounds like -unfortunately - you have come to dislike your job- driven by all the politically driven changes that have changed our profession /vocation into a something very different from what it used to be.....so maybe getting out would be the best way forward or doing something different - maybe write a book ? Best wishes for a speedy recovery

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  • I've laughed out loud so many times on reading your articles, Phil. Get well soon and please look after yourself. Thank you.

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  • What more can be said other than get better soon and I hope what happens work wise is what is best for you.

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  • Phil mate, quit while your ahead
    Becoming a martyr for the NHS won't get you 72 virgins

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  • " You lucky,lucky bastard!" All joking aside- thanks Phil for all the laughs, wishing you all the best for the future.

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  • Phil, I've never doubted your dedication to your hilarious column, but really this time you've gone too far. Flat on your back, wired to a heart monitor, breathless and exhausted, with a fair chance of more bad news to come. This is all just some giant metaphor for the state of the profession, isn't it? Clearly there are no depths you won't plumb.

    Seriously though, I want to thank you. In my 8 years since qualifying you have been a voice of sanity, of hope, and of reassurance that in silently shaking my head at the absurdity of it all a dozen times a day I am not alone. You were in my ear when the statin denouncer came in waiving the Daily Wail, or the snotty child was dragged along for the umpteenth time by a mother unable to comprehend what "self limiting" meant.

    And now, my friend, it's time to hang up the guessing tubes and put your feet up. Nothing is worth the stroke you lumber manfully towards. Chuck it in, smile sweetly as you toss the resignation grenade, and jet off for some sangria, safe in the knowledge that the system has failed you, not the other way around. It needs to be someone else's problem now, Phil.

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