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GPs despair over innumerate health ministers



GPs across the country are losing patience after it emerged that the Government still hasn’t quite grasped the meaning of numbers such as 24, 200,000, eight billion, and seven.

‘The list of numbers is almost endless,’ says number expert Professor Candid, ‘and I’ve spent the last five years helping ministers grasp the basics.’

‘When I tried to explain to the health secretary that there are only seven days in a week and that doctors and nurses already work on every one of these, he just chewed his sandwich like a bovine simpleton.

‘When I then explained that GPs already provide cover 24 hours a day, and since there are only 24 hours in a day it was difficult to see how they could provide even more cover than that, he had a sort of wounded look in his eyes which made me want to call a vet.’

The health secretary has always had a problem with numbers, one source revealed.

We caught up with a civil servant who worked with him early on in his career.

‘I remember holding up a bread roll,’ says the former civil servant, ‘and he repeated one, then I held up two bread rolls and he said two, and I thought I’d made a real breakthrough until I held up three bread rolls and he said 77 million.’ 

‘Numbers are abstractions which describe the world around us,’ says Prof Candid. ‘The health secretary might drop them into conversation like the rest of us, but they don’t have any real meaning for him.

‘The number 200,000, for example, is quite a lot for you or I, and it’s certainly a lot of signatures, but to him it’s a bit like the colour Breen – hard to imagine.’

Dr Kevin Hinkley is a GP in Edinburgh