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*Cough* *cough* 'This...' *cough* 'is...' *cough* *cough* 'perfectly...' *cough* 'good...' *cough* *cough* '...for you'

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Cough cough cough. Cough cough cough cough. Cough cough cough cough cough.

This is what I see when I look down my day duty list of ‘urgents’, where the receptionist puts a one-word summary of what the ‘urgent’ problem is. ‘Cough’. I keep scanning. Cough cough cough. Cough cough cough cough cough cough cough cough cough cough cough cough cough cough cough cough cough cough cough cough cough cough cough cough cough cough cough cough cough cough cough cough cough cough cough cough cough cough cough cough cough cough cough cough cough cough cough cough cough cough cough cough cough cough cough cough cough cough cough cough cough cough cough cough cough.

There seems to be a pattern developing here. And the theme continues when I actually see these patients. Because that’s what they do. They cough. Spectacularly, histrionically and phlegmilly. All over me.

And after I’ve played dumb, as if I have absolutely no idea why they’ve attended, and waited for silence, and wiped the viral spittle from my face, and asked, innocently, ‘So what can I do for you today?’, it’s time for them to choose their favourite antibiotic-provoking cough adjective. Thus, hacking, terrible, awful, violent, horrendous, chesty, nasty and so on ad nauseam.

Why not get a useful public health message out there - if you're obviously not gasping your last, then COUGH IS GOOD

If that doesn’t jolt me out of my torpor, they’ll try appending some time-based justification such as, ‘I’ve had it for weeks now’, ‘It’s gone on for too long’, ‘I’ve tried to put up with it’ etc.

The truth is I’ve had enough. I mean, really, is there any symptom more over-valued and pointless than cough? Apart, maybe, from fever. Or sore throat. Or headache. Whatever. The point is, I’ve seen 28,980 patients with cough in my career (and yes, I did just work that out) and that’s enough for anyone.

So, for any patients out there reading this, I DON’T CARE ABOUT YOUR COUGH. I JUST DON’T WANT TO KNOW. YOUR COUGH BORES ME, DO YOU UNDERSTAND? AND IF YOU EVER, EVER AGAIN BRING ME SOMETHING YOU HAVE COUGHED UP WRAPPED IN A TISSUE, I WILL RIP YOUR STUPID COUGHING HEAD OFF, OK?

And to Public Health England, I’d say this. For once, why not get a useful message out there? Instead of suggesting that anyone who so much as clears their throat might have cancer, why not publically proclaim that, if you’re all throaty and snuffly, and you don’t suffer asthma or COPD, and you’re not obviously gasping your last, then COUGH IS GOOD. It’s the way your body clears the crap out of your lungs. It’s harmless. There’s nothing anyone can do about it. And it may go on for weeks. Which, at this rate, is longer than many GPs.

Dr Tony Copperfield is a GP in Essex. You can follow him on Twitter @DocCopperfield

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Readers' comments (10)

  • you'd think someone could design a guideline based app questionnaire for cough which after pressing phone's microphone to chest, could automatically complete and send off xray/2-week wait forms/prescription requests to nearest pharmacy and bypass gps altogether. NHSE would have to pay to cover the app creators indemnity costs of course..

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  • Ahh Dr Copperfield, you missed that their cough has been keeping them awake at night and their off on holiday this Friday.

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  • "But doctor, its gone to my chest".......Astute as always Dr C. I particularly hate the fact that they then look at you like you have 3 heads when you tell them you arent going to give them antibiotics

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  • Public Health works best by scaremongering which is, 'see your GP as soon as you get xyz, you might have something that will surely kill you'

    Public Health is no good for what it really should be for, which is, 'you'll be all right if you look after yourself, and here is how you do it'

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  • I think there is a much worse viral cough going round. most of our patients now know that a cough is to be put up with but the PHE advice was to investigate if it goes on for more than 3 weeks. This 'hacking cough' is VERY persistent (it made me cough for 8 weeks and I have never coughed in 50 year). what amazes me is that no one knows what virus causes it. Prof Oxford suggested it was an adenovirus but I have not seen any confirmation of this. Can anyone correct me on this?

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  • My recent viral cough led to pneumonia - so there

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  • send them for a weekly chest x ray - public health will be delighted

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  • I’ve had the awful cough for three weeks now and it is indeed awful. Every day that I’ve had it, I’ve pitied my poor ex colleagues who are still working as GPs, knowing the coughing hell they must be enduring right now and I have offered up prayers of gratitude that I now work in cosmetic medicine. Sorry guys. Hope it’s over soon.

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  • I have had a persistent cough for the last few years and have been to several GPs many times only to be told there is nothing wrong.
    Having nearly died 3 times I was finally correctly diagnosed in A & E as having had a massive bilateral PE and am now on treatment.
    I understand the pressures everyone is under, but this symptom should not be treated flippantly as it has been in this article.

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  • I've always enjoyed a good laugh reading Copperfield and I understand among all the dross that come in but it can be a serious symptom and I have seen disc protrusions, ribs cracked and hernias as well as TB, PEs and cancer. Having had it for weeks, I have a lot more sympathy to keep me away from the MDU or manslaughter charges for missing it.

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