A personal experience leaves columnist Dr Copperfield more sympathetic to patients… and to the idea of favourable NHS treatment for doctors
I don’t know if you’ve noticed this, but people seem to get iller as they get older. And so it is with me, as each new dawn appears to bring with it another bit of me dropping off.
No surprise, then, that I find myself unwillingly thrust into the role of ‘patient’. I won’t bore you with a tedious homily of insights from the post-op ward in which I’m writing this column. But I will say that my supposed ‘two-week referral’ led to six weeks of radio silence, the hospital helpline failing to respond to multiple calls and, when eventually I did make contact, me being listed for the wrong procedure. This all means I now have much greater sympathy for patients who call us in desperation, because by that point it boils down to us or Ghostbusters.
So I did what absolutely everyone else seems to do these days if they can, and that’s ‘go private’. Which clearly is the Government’s unspoken policy for reducing secondary care waiting lists, the cunning bastards.
Which got me thinking, and not just about my bank balance. Specifically, it made me wonder, is there a case for NHS workers getting preferential treatment? Bear with me. I’m no great fan of queue jumping. I’m so egalitarian that, mid-Covid, I nobly declined the ‘essential worker’ fast-track at Waitrose that the massive ‘NHS hero’ badge I was wearing proved I was entitled to.
But there is the precedent of preferential treatment for veterans, of course. Now, obviously, I’m not going to make the crass and oft-repeated metaphor-riddled parallel about us GPs being on the front line of the NHS’s War on Illness, even if coping with all the flak from enemy patients is a form of trench warfare that can leave you a bit shell-shocked.
What I will say, though, is that it’s probably reasonable to feel a bit pissed off when you’ve devoted 35 years to the NHS, and worked above and beyond through goodwill, dedication and a belief in the system, only to find the secondary care door slammed in your face when you need treatment yourself. Like I did. Yes, I know, I will get a nice pension, but I’d like to be around to enjoy it, right?
Back in the day, of course, we could just ring up our consultant mates to help us out, and they would, willingly. Trouble is, there’s no back door anymore – the bureaucracy is too stifling and the pathways too rigid.
But the argument for preferential treatment for NHS staff probably goes beyond my own simmering resentment and selfishness. To keep the NHS running, you need to have ailing staff treated promptly, efficiently and conveniently – that way you avoid stressing a creaking service even more.
Besides, in the current climate when more of us are opting for early retirement, what better way to retain older staff than to guarantee them prompt NHS care when, like me, they start falling apart?
So if only for these reasons of pragmatism, NHS, why not start looking after your own? In the meantime, I might try submitting my private bill to NHS England to see if they’ll stump up. A patient genuinely once tried that with me by way of a protest about his inability to get a GP appointment. I laughed about it then, but I’m not laughing now.
Although that might be the stitches.
Dr Copperfield is a GP in Essex. Read more of his blogs here