Phil enjoys filling in the patient survey on his own practice – until the negativity gets too much
Joy of joys! I've just been sent one of those Ipsos-MORI questionnaires, the one called ‘The GP Patient Survey'.
I've been asked to submit my views on the services my own GP provides.
‘We need your views on local NHS services,' it tells me. ‘The Government is committed to using public views to improve services. Most people visit their GP surgery several times a year, so it is important the NHS provides access to quality care.'
Can't argue with that – and as all GPs are patients too, somewhere, it makes sense some of us are asked to comment on our own profession from time to time.
However. When I got my partnership and moved into Sunderland, what with having a lot on my plate and all, it made sense to register with my own practice – initially out of expediency, latterly inertia. I'm still a patient of my own practice. So, deliciously, I get to provide feedback about me. I've got the form right in front of me now.
It was enormous fun to fill out at first. It started with: ‘How easy do you find it to get into the building?' I've got my own key, so that helps.
‘How helpful are the receptionists?' Well, they'll fetch me a pad of sick notes and go up the road to get me a bacon sandwich.
Speaking to a doctor on the phone? I can shout through the wall if he's engaged. Booking an appointment? Nothing's easier – I know which EMIS screen to use.
But after a bit it started to be less fun.
I began to tune in to the niggly, complaining tone of the thing. It was inviting negative answers. For most of the questions, there are more negative options than positive ones.
‘How long after your appointment do you normally wait to be seen?' runs one question. It's not quite on a par with ‘Have you stopped beating your wife yet?' but the question implies a certain bias. There's no option to say you get seen early, something that does occasionally happen, even with me. You can say you get seen on time or tick one of four degrees of incompetence.
‘If you haven't seen a doctor in the last six months, why is that?' One option is that you haven't needed to. The other four options imply GP untrustworthiness or venality, transport problems or our implied inability to offer an appointment at all.
In essence, the whole thing struck me as a subtle moaner's charter, in a society that nurtures moaners and complainers. I saw two examples today. I stopped off to buy a magazine and queued for maybe two minutes. The ratty little bloke in front of me gave the newsagent a savage mouthful because he had to wait to pay for his baccy.
Then I went on a visit and had to endure some passive-aggressive shite from a lady who wanted a visit an hour before I provided it. As she only had conjunctivitis and temporary paralysis of her ‘getting dressed' muscles, I didn't worry, but I did wonder how these bitter entitlement-monkeys would have filled their forms in.
General practice is not perfect. I myself would like to administer a sound kicking to those few GPs who still don't let people book future appointments and force them to phone up at 8am in an undignified scramble to be seen that day or not at all – but most of us work hard to get it right.
I bet the results of that survey don't reflect this. It's not designed that way.
Dr Phil Peverley is a GP in SunderlandPeverley