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GP success in preventative medicine makes for a rare good news story

Each GP saves 4.7 lives a year, say researchers,‘ is clearly a front-runner for the least likely Daily Mail headline of the year. But thanks, Pulse, for bringing us this rare good news story to counteract our current state of contract-induced psychotic depression.

Having said that, while I might have been naive enough to think I had a mission to save lives when I first went to medical school, it most certainly wasn’t why I entered general practice. Dear me, no, my ambitions as I applied to my VTS were more realistic, along the lines of a) Clearing the nation’s ears of wax and b) Paying off my mortgage as quickly as possible.

But it is kinda nice to know that all this preventive stuff actually has a quantifiable benefit. The problem is, of course, we never know whose life we’ve saved, exactly, and so don’t get the gratitude we deserve from punters. I intend to remedy this by randomly selecting 4.7 patients each year who I’ve started on statins, antihypertensives and the like, and sending them a note, probably just before Christmas, letting them know that they owe their continued existence to me (and if any of them have given me any grief over the year I’ll add an addendum, ‘And I wish I hadn’t bloody bothered’).

The even better news, though, is that this figure is undoubtedly an underestimate, because the researchers only looked at disease prevention. Had they looked at iatrogenesis, too, they’d have seen that I’m saving possibly hundreds of lives a year by not prescribing indiscriminately, by refusing unnecessary investigations and by not sending patients to hospitals whose mission statement is ‘Abandon Hope All ye Who Enter Here’.

Any DH suit with a sense of irony reading, please note: the contract changes will, at best, undermine the time I have for these life-saving heroics. And, at worst, will make me lose the will to live.

Dr Tony Copperfield is a GP in Essex. You can email him at and follow him on Twitter @DocCopperfield.