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Is the cancer diagnosis drive actually hurting our patients?

Well, that was fun. The opening session, “Is the cancer diagnosis drive putting pressure on practices?” By show of hands, you bet.

More to the point, is it any bloody use?

Even more to the point, is it actually harming patients?

We may have persuaded people that there isn’t ‘a pill for every ill’, but we’re nowhere near defeating the monster that is, “‘here’s an imaging option for every symptom’. And if we let Dr Google have access to our X-ray and scan request forms then we’re going to see long queues of the worried well forming outside radiology and ultrasound departments, which will not be a Good Thing. Not At All. The better we get at taking pictures of people’s innards the more we realise that there’s no such thing as normal any more. If you don’t see a possibly suspicious lesion on every whole body CT scan that’s performed then you aren’t looking hard enough.

So much for allaying patients’ anxiety:

‘Theres definitely something there, but, it’s probably nothing.’

‘Thanks Doc, that’s absolutely put my mind at rest.’

Of course we’re overworked, and of course we’re going to miss early cancers. It was pointed out that the average German GP looks after around 500 patients. And I’ll bet that they all turn up for all their appointments on time and don’t need umpteen reminders about their smear tests.

One audience member even went so far as to ask, “Should the “Be Clear On Cancer” campaign be scrapped altogether?” Maybe not, but we should have the resources available to deal with the extra consultations it generates.

Biggest laugh of the morning undoubtedly went to GPC deputy chair Richard Vautrey, In the context of a summary of the 2015 contract that actually didn’t render the audience stuporous, he suggested that a “returners’ scheme” might be set up to accommodate NHS-trained GPs who had emigrated to the environs of Bondi Beach and had got so tired of the surf, sunshine, tinnies and time with their families that they were pining for their old job as a GP back in rain-sodden Rotherham.

Anyway, from next April we can look forward to our seniority payments being eroded, Patient Participation Groups becoming compulsory, patients reading their records – though thankfully not the free text that holds all the truths – and changes to MPIG and the Carr-Hill formula (which is not, as I thought, the way to figure out which team won a rained-shortened cricket match). Dr Vautrey ended with Mr Punch-style advice to GPs about to register out of area patients and/or sign leases proffered by NHS Property Services : Don’t. Succinct and easy to remember.

Unlike the next bit. The folk handing out the plastic toy spermatozoa I mentioned yesterday (they were actually real ) had 25 minutes’ worth of lecture hall time to persuade an initially sceptical audience of the benefits of anti-oxidant treatments for low sperm counts, then, as the collective blood sugar levels plummeted towards lunch, we had the compulsory lecture about new stuff for diabetes.

Apparently making them pee sugary urine, after all the efforts we used to make to prevent it, is now a Good Thing. You couldn’t really make it up.

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


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