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I’ve nothing more to give

Going the extra mile for patients is what makes a good GP, says Phil. But sometimes patients push things a bit too far.

I’ll nearly always go that extra mile for my patients. It’s part of the job. In fact, I’ve come to believe that that’s what defines a good GP – a man or woman who’ll take an extra step or two in the right direction. We have a contract with our punters to provide basic medical services and that’s easy enough, most of the time. But the personal long-term relationship, the one-on-one, year-on-year trusting, the hand-holding, smiling, therapeutic covenant – that’s a rare beast. I’m an honoured guest in the complex and ongoing drama of more families than I can easily count.

I’m sensible enough to be honoured by this. But realistic enough to recognise the cost. And, in the consultation before me, I can see the bill approaching.

I’ve dealt with this teenage lad’s acne and frankly, if he follows my instructions, he’ll be beating the women off with a stick in a few months’ time. But this does not seem to be enough. He and his mother (and it’s always the mother) are still sitting there with plastic smiles, and she’s rummaging about and bringing out a sponsor form.

My heart sinks. They’ve had the benefit of my expertise and the largesse of the NHS. And now I can see that, in addition, they want the blood out of my veins.

‘Damien is going to Tanzania in October, doctor! His church group are going to build a school! I was hoping you might sponsor him; he’s having a sponsored silence next Friday to raise funds!’ mum says.

At this point I need a ‘time out’. I bite the insides of my cheeks and try to count the number of ways that this offends me.

Basically, Damien is a spotty 15-year-old Herbert. I suspect his school-building skills are rudimentary at best. Mine aren’t great, I’ll admit, and I’ve had 30 more years on this earth than he has. I wouldn’t trust myself to build a school in Tanzania, and I don’t see why he should either.

I can’t see it making economic or architectural sense to ship Damien and his teenage mates over to a distant continent to faff around with breeze-blocks and Polyfilla when my own sons of the same age can’t load a dishwasher. If a school needs building in Tanzania, then the obvious solution to me is to pay some Tanzanian builders to build it.

For some reason I don’t feel comfortable opening up this can of worms, so I mentally move on to the next dilemma. Why should I give him some money to shut up for a while? Why would I care if he’s quiet or not? Sponsoring people to do something that is of no interest to me is an eternal burden on my wallet, and I don’t understand why.

My own son’s school held a sponsored eight-hour fast recently, which basically involved the kids missing lunch (which I had previously already paid for and for which I wasn’t refunded). But, presumably for ‘health and safety’ reasons, they were allowed to eat barley sugars to prevent hypoglycaemia. My son ate about a pound of them and it took 24 hours to get him down from his glucose high.

In recent months I’ve been asked to sponsor bike rides, canoeing trips, abseiling and parachute jumps, all for some sort of charity. Stop me if I’m getting off on the wrong foot here, but surely these are all fun things that you might normally expect to pay for yourself?

Well, if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em. Next week I am planning a sponsored whisky tasting, in aid of some charity or other, the details of which I’ll work out later. Please send a bottle of single malt (Islay for preference) to Pulse in my name. God bless you for your beneficence.

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