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Up close and impersonal

Tea and cakes don't make up for a far-flung home visit every month. Phil thought he had the answer, but his patient had other ideas

I am full of hell. I've just returned from the most irritating, most infuriating home visit that our practice has to offer, and I need to vent. I go there about once a month. It ruins my day.

It's not because of the patient. She's a decent old stick of 80-odd, always ready with a cup of tea and a Jaffa cake, and who usually comes out with that comment about how young the doctors are these days.

Given that I'm now nearer the end of my GP career than the start, it's rare that I ever hear that one nowadays, so it always brings a few seconds of faint pleasure to my otherwise bleak existence.

It's not because of the distance involved. True, this lady lives probably as far away from our practice as it is possible to be while remaining in the same city, but the driving time doesn't bother me unduly.

I've got a nice new car with air-con and a cracking stereo system, so I spend the journey either rocking out to The Who or yelling at those bloody doctor-hating idiots on You And Yours on Radio 4, and either way the experience is cathartic.

No, the real reason for my frustration is the view from this old biddy's window. Sitting with my cup of Earl Grey, listening with half an ear to her usual tale of urinary or arthropathic woe, I can gaze out at a brand new, state-of-the-art, all-singing, all-dancing health centre, which is literally across the road from her sheltered accommodation. If I lean out of her second-floor window, I can spit on its roof. In fact, I often do.

A year or so ago I brought this matter up with her. ‘Look, Mrs Calcichew, can I ask you something?'

‘What is it pet? Another biscuit?'

‘No, not that (oh well, go on then). It's just that I notice there's a dirty great doctor's surgery directly opposite your front door. If you went outside and fell over, your venerable old bonce would land in their reception area.

‘It took me 25 minutes to drive here. It's not that we don't want you as a patient but I just wondered, idle speculation of course, but did you ever think about joining that surgery instead?'

She suddenly looked guilty. ‘You know doctor, I've been on your panel for 75 years.' This was true, but I admit it didn't move me all that much.

The way I see it, having been on to a good thing for three quarters of a century is not necessarily a persuasive argument for getting more of the same. ‘But when they built that place I did think it would be more convenient if I went there instead.'

I was nodding so vigorously at this point that Garibaldi crumbs were bouncing off the walls.

‘So I went over and asked, but when they saw the list of medications I was taking they told me that their list was full and they weren't taking any new patients on. I don't mind, really. I hear they don't do home visits, and I would so miss these little chats. More tea? Or how about one of these Tunnock's teacakes?'

I got back in the car and drove back to the surgery, screaming at Brian Aldridge and Eddy Grundy all the way home.

Dr Phil Peverley is a GP in Sunderland

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