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Independents' Day

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)

  • Thanks for all the laughs often brightened a bad day
    Best wishes and get well soon

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  • 12.27 do you not understand the point of this blog? This is not about patients. Wishing Phil well then tempering it with a "but don't forget the patients" is completely missing the point. I am certain that Phil's concern for his patients has contributed hugely to the situation he now finds himself in. If you can't say something nice, then please go away. same goes for the 7.35 post yesterday......... If you are a fellow health professional you should be ashamed of yourself

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  • Bob Hodges

    I agree. The comments suggesting that somehow 'the patients' are worth an early death or a bankrupt GP are utterly disgraceful.

    I suggest those that made them become missionaries and sod off abroad.

    Phil mate - you are legend.

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  • some of those comments are disgraceful - I note they didn't have the b***s to put their name to them.

    Pev - agree it's time to get out. You only get one life, and you've probably done the equivalent of one-and-a-half working lifetimes already so no need to feel guilty.

    Thank you for telling it like it is, humorously and so well, over the years. I hope you can find a new life to enjoy with your family, but still feel up to continuing to write for your many fans.

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  • Such a sad situation. Please look after yourself.

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  • all the best Dr Peverley - gonna miss your articles !

    maybe you could take on a political leadership role and lead us out of this mess - we really do need decent leadership ;)

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  • i think Anonymous | 29 May 2015 7:35pm was being tongue in cheek and highlighting the absurd expectations that the public and profession places on us,

    the problem is that there is no light at the end of the tunnel - only more expectations and demand with diminishing resources.

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  • Thank you for all the kind comments, they are much appreciated and very touching. I'm currently back in sinus rhythm and have handed in my first ever sick note. I should stress that Pulse didn't make me write while I was ill, the first the editor knew about it was when I sent him the finished article.

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  • What a shock that was - get well soon Pev

  • Totally gutted to read this and wishing Pev a very speedy, full and permanent recovery and a very well-deserved and happy retirement, since that is surely the right thing to do now. My wife, who left work as a GP locum through ill health, also sends best wishes for health and retirement. Pev, you have been an absolute star, keeping everyone else sane in the most dreadful situation. I don't know if a couple of the anonymous comments above are deliberately ironic or just plainly grotesquely insensitive. I suspect the latter, in which case it really is time for Pulse to ensure that comments on this website are indeed from "medical professionals only".

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  • Dominique Dock

    Such a pity to read your story ...and I happen to know it from inside, having quit a London NHS practice in 2012, just before completely loosing it ! after ending up in hospital several times with paroxystic AF...
    Take care and make the right decision for YOU.

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