‘After two o’clock we’re off to catch up with the latest goings on in Ambridge. But now on Radio Four, it’s time for the news…’ Bip bip bip bip bip beeeep.
A few moments later there was a knock at the door.
‘Come to sort out your calibration, Doc,’ he said. ‘Shouldn’t take more than a couple of minutes.’
‘And what time, exactly, do you call this?’
‘Two o’clock Guv, spot on.’
‘Two o’clock plus 17 seconds, to be precise. For a job that takes 120 seconds turning up 17 seconds late represents an error of 8.5%, give or take.’
‘Scarcely matters though, does it, Doc? I mean, not in real life.’
‘Real life doesn’t enter into it. If real life were anything to go by you’d not be here, calibrating a set of scales installed at the CQC’s insistence and at vast expense. Real life doesn’t require me to measure the body weight of my patients accurate to the weight of a ruby-throated hummingbird either way.’
‘It’s like this. However badly I perform at the village fete’s “Guess the weight of the cake” contest every year I can still spot a patient who’s eaten more than their fair share of the exhibits as soon as they walk into the room. There’s the way their shadow blots out all the natural light as they loom in the doorway, the way the chair creaks and groans as they take a seat. It’s the elasticated waistband to their trousers, the gravitational pull they exert upon objects in the room that aren’t nailed to the planet. It’s a knack that I’ve developed over the years… “You,” I tell them, “appear to be a few pounds over your fighting weight”.’
‘How about patients who are on a diet? How are you going to monitor their progress if your scales aren’t accurate to two decimal places?’ he asked. I called upon Bolton-based funnyman Peter Kay to provide a much needed reality check: ‘You been on a diet for a week and you’ve lost a pound? A pound? Jesus! I sh*t a pound…’
Scattered around this building there are roughly fifteen sets of scales, ranging from high street versions retailing at twenty quid through to the old-fashioned type used to weigh boxers with big footprints (the scales, that is, not the boxers).
We also have one pair of Monster Scales designed to weigh monsters (bipeds that weigh more than 140kg) to an accuracy of plus or minus one gram. These cost £500 and according to the CQC we need to buy fourteen more sets in order to ‘comply’ or face the consequences. Our Practice Manager tells me that all the sets of scales in our building, apart from the Monster Scales, are not CQC compliant, but if we replaced the high-street versions we’d have to do it with the £500 model.
Now I can think of lots of good ways to spend £7,000, some of which involve long haul flights, economy-sized bottles of baby lotion and two of the checkout girls at Waitrose. But none of them involve weighing morbidly obese patients to meaningless degrees of accuracy that would put a particle physicist to shame.
Henceforth, the scales in our consulting rooms are not pieces of medical equipment per se, they are decorative items. If a patient should happen to step on a set on the way to or from the examination couch and if, using my clinical judgement, the reading indicates that they should be more accurately weighed, then I’ll direct them to the Monster Room. Or maybe I’ll just ask Mrs Jackson, if she’s around the waiting area. She’s usually spot on when guessing the weight of the cake at the fete.
And if the CQC have a problem with that, they can write a report and they can feel free to bung it into my shredder, if theirs is full.
Dr Tony Copperfield is a GP in Essex. You can email him at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter @DocCopperfield.