‘Well if nobody else will, I’ll go and get the ******* patient myself!’
As a medical student, I witnessed this outburst from a slightly grumpy but very hardworking consultant surgeon.
He had a busy morning operating list and after having just called the porter’s lodge to ask for his next patient to be brought down to theatre and being told the porter was on his tea break, he decided to go up to the ward and wheel the patient down himself. This struck me at the time as the perfect example of a doctor not afraid to get his hands dirty.
I have spent my career trying to be first and foremost a hands-on doctor. I’m afraid my respect for trained doctors who spend the majority of their time sitting on committees, sending emails and generally telling those of us at the coal face how to do our jobs from the comfort of their ivory towers, is on a par with my opinion of Trump voters.
Sadly, even before Covid, there seemed to be a developing trend for some newly qualified GPs to prefer to avoid direct patient contact by opting for telephone triage work over actual face-to-face work. Covid has made it much easier for doctors who dislike seeing real patients to hide behind a computer screen.
When I teach undergraduates, I make it very clear that in my opinion medicine is a face to face, bloods and guts profession that frequently makes use of four of your five senses. Remote consulting can, at best, make use of two.
If we wish to maintain the high level of regard patients have for us, we need to continue to show we are willing to engage physically with patients during and after Covid. Whether that is physically helping out giving flu vaccines in a flu clinic, or just going out into the waiting room to call a patient in personally. Patients really do appreciate the personal touch. Not one of them will give a damn about your CQC rating or how many CCG committee meetings you have sat on, but they will remember the times you sit and listened to them face to face.
Yes, there is a risk of catching Covid from patients, but when has there not been a risk of us catching something from our patients? Our job is dealing with illness, for goodness sake! Whether it’s TB, MRSA, meningitis or norovirus, we have always been at risk of contracting something infectious from those we treat. Frankly, if you don’t like flames, don’t become a firefighter.
There is another potential sinister side to the increase in remote consulting. In a few years, with the country racked with debt from Covid, whoever is health secretary then may be tempted to do general practice on the cheap, by franchising our remote consulting to call centres full of doctors overseas.
‘It couldn’t happen in the NHS!’ you cry. Really?
Dr David Turner is a GP in west London