… and in most cases, that’s where it should stay. At least, according to Christopher Hitchens, anyway.
But all GPs have the potential to be entertaining and informative authors. Think of the experiences that have punctuated your career, the confidential tales you hear in the consulting room, and the life and death dramas you witness. There aren’t many other professions with day-to-day rollercoasters riding the good, the bad and the very, very ugly. So believe me, there’s a book in you.
I wouldn’t have said this five years ago, when I retired after more than 30 years as a GP partner in the Kent village of Sutton Valence. It never occurred to me to write anything other than a few articles, or ‘disgusted of Tunbridge Wells’ letters to the papers.
As for producing a novel, that was even less likely than being killed by flesh-eating bacteria.
A novelist requires at least two attributes – good idea and a vivid imagination. I had neither.
So how come I’m now the proud author of a massive dystopian tale about half the size of ‘War and Peace’? How come it was snapped up by the first publisher approached? And (still a mystery to me) why is it selling well in the USA?
In the acknowledgements of The Deceit Syndrome, I partly answer these puzzles. I list the politicians and organisations, who, through being responsible for messing up our NHS, provoked me into typing away with one finger, on and off for a couple of years.
There aren’t many other professions with day-to-day rollercoasters riding the good, the bad and the very, very ugly
I spent most of my career trying to defend the NHS and Bevan’s principles – what appears to be a losing battle. The medical establishment seemed to capitulate to Governments of all colours. When Andrew Lansley published his plans in 2010, I saw his Bill for what it was – disaster for the NHS.
Then Simon Stevens came along – straight from ten years as head of global expansion at the American healthcare giant UnitedHealth, and I was even more worried. But my attempts in medical and then national politics to try to warn the public about what’s really happening to the NHS failed dismally.
Fed up and with no further ideas about how to get the message across, I went on holiday to India. Then it happened. I dreamt up the outline of my novel in Udaipur.
I quickly sketched the synopsis of twenty chapters in my hotel bedroom, then promptly forgot about the whole thing.
Six months later, I caught Jeremy Hunt saying something really stupid about the NHS – even by his standards. That stirred up my anger again, and so I found the outline and started tapping away. Once more, it would be shelved for a few months. Then, there he was again, this time claiming to be a better scientist than Stephen Hawking. That reinvigorated me. The 20 chapters ended up as 68, plus an epilogue!
Because I just worked on this when I felt like it, I can honesty say that I thoroughly enjoyed the challenge. It was therapeutic to get things off my chest. Compared to a morning surgery, it was a stress-free doddle.
How would I sum it up in a few sentences? It’s essentially about an experienced GP who becomes increasingly alarmed about the extra misery and sickness he sees on a daily basis. His despair turns to anger when he realises that this is a direct result of undemocratic political manipulation. The dismantling of the NHS in a dishonest, clandestine manner spawned decades ago, and linked to many of the other scandals and conspiracies in our lifetime. It ends in 2030.
It’s long, but I had a lot of ground to cover and an important message to get across.
At time of writing, it’s just been announced that Kent is to have healthcare via four integrated care providers – the equivalent of the American health maintenance organisations. I don’t remember voting for that. But it’s all in my book. Fiction – or is it?
Dr Paul Hobday is a retired GP partner in Kent
You can purchase Dr Hobday’s book, The Deceit Syndrome, here.