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Sick Notes: Prangs, tweets and a cold yak steak

Welcome to sick notes, Pulse’s new diary column, and what better way to kick things off than with that rarest of collector’s items, a Daily Mail front page celebrating the professionalism and independence of hard-pressed family doctors? Under last month’s banner headline ‘GPs revolt on patient records’, the Mail followed up on Pulse stories revealing that some practices were planning to opt all patients out of the controversial scheme, and offered a full-page opinion slot to Oxford GP Dr Gordon Gancz, who was allowed to decry NHS England’s ‘bullying’ tactics. The Mail left no doubt where its sympathies lay, with a separate editorial piece that may or may not have been penned by Paul Dacre himself asking plaintively: ‘Does a GP’s professional judgement count for nothing any more?’ All this without so much as a whisper about fat cat GPs and their six-figure salaries. Long may it continue.

Much of the kerfuffle over this month has been blamed on poor communications, and Sick Notes is relieved to report it’s not just the Pulse team that has been struggling to winkle information out of NHS England. An exhaustive 2,600-word deconstruction of by geek bible Wired included the following gem: ‘The absolute crux of the issue seems to be what – exactly – you can and can’t opt out of. But was told that we have to wait until Monday until two people get back from holiday to explain the details.’ Meanwhile, a breathless press release from NHS England informs us that Tim Kelsey – NHS England director for patients and information and the man fronting the campaign – will be ‘getting his groove on in the Betting on Trains jazz band’ at the Mede/Groove party at this month’s Health and Care Innovation Expo. Still got questions about confidentiality and opt-out Read codes? Track him down on the dance floor, perhaps…

Pulse frequently reports tales of GP derring-do and charitable endeavour from around the globe, but few are as impressive as that of Dr David Ratcliffe, a GP from Walton-on-Thames, Surrey. Not only did Dr Ratcliffe scale the tallest peak on every continent in the course of an epic 11-year challenge, raising some £17,000 for motor neurone disease research in the process, he also got to deploy his GP training on the descent of Mount Everest. ‘I was sitting in the lodge, just ordered a yak steak when the girl next to me collapsed and started having a fit from high-altitude cerebral oedema,’ explains Dr Ratcliffe. ‘Luckily there was an expedition there… and we were able to revive her. She survived and sent me a nice letter to say thank you for all the help. My steak went cold though, that was the only problem.’ If any GP has a better story about offering life-saving emergency treatment while waiting for a yak steak, we look forward to hearing from you.


The thorny topic of gp access has once again been in the headlines over the past month, with practices in London still facing breach of contract notices after early closing over the Christmas period, and NHS England hosting a summit on in-hours closing. But why exactly might a surgery need to shut within core hours? Step forward Family Doctor Association chair Dr Peter Swinyard. ‘It is perfectly reasonable for a practice to close down for a couple of hours for a training session,’ he explains. ‘It wouldn’t be much fun for patients to wander in and see all the staff on the floor bouncing up and down on top of Resusci Annes, or throwing the senior partner into the recovery position.’ Sick Notes isn’t exactly sure how often Dr Swinyard’s Swindon practice shuts for training. But if you turn up between 8am and 6.30pm and the doors are closed, we’d suggest you knock first.

Shock and awe last month among the many GPs and NHS managers who have taken to Twitter, as a familiar face joined the social networking site – outgoing NHS England chief executive Sir David Nicholson, who steps down next month. It’s fair to say Sir David has adopted a no-holds-barred approach to online engagement, offering such ready repartee and insights into his personal life that Sick Notes was moved to check with NHS England that the @DavidNichols0n account really was owned by the man himself (and apparently it is). Among the highlights so far, commentary on The Archers (‘OMG a bombshell for Helen’), a snapshot of his Saturday mornings (‘off to buy carseat for little one’) and banter with a Jeremy Hunt parody account (‘I thought I was your bit of rough’).

It’s a perennial challenge for researchers – how do you communicate abstract ideas in an accessible way? With vivid and curiously specific metaphors, apparently, if the press releases we’ve received over the past month are anything to go by. First there was a warning from the World Health Organization that the world is facing a ‘tidal wave’ of cancer, a comparison that no doubt prompted many of those battling the February floods to glance nervously at the horizon. Then there was the claim from scientists at the Georgia Institute of Technology that cancer ‘monorails’ can be used to kill tumours by luring them into areas of the body which are safer to operate on – an analogy that the BBC’s website chose to illustrate, somewhat unimaginatively, with a picture of an actual monorail.

And finally, have you had a fender bender recently? We only ask because of a worrying report from insurance company, claiming GPs are the ‘most bump-prone drivers on British roads’. An analysis of more than six million car insurance quotes found 29% of GPs have made at least one claim over the past five years, making them the most accident-prone profession. Sick Notes can only imagine what will happen when the CQC gets wind of this. Mandatory ‘I’m a GP – how’s my driving’ stickers perhaps?