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Let’s do the time warp

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If you want to know the time, ask a policeman, they used to say, but that was before the advent of smartphones and before the disappearance of policemen. Not, note, ‘Ask a politician’. And with good reason.

Because politicians seem to realise, better than anyone else, that time is an elastic concept. Take their pledges to conjure up 5,000 extra GPs by 2020. Yes, that’s next year. Or, at least, it is for those of us for whom time has something to do with clocks, calendars and certainty.

Not so for politicians. Here’s a brief history of time from their perspective, as evidenced by that ‘5,000 GPs’ pledge. This was originally firmly scheduled by Jeremy Hunt back in October 2014. In June 2015, the deadline developed ‘flexibility’, although this flexibility was ‘clarified’ shortly after as referring to the exact number of new GPs rather than the exact date, which remained 2020-ish.

The doctor will see you soon

There followed a period of significant wavering until, in January of this year, Matt Hancock admitted that the new deadline was, officially, ‘no fixed date’, though it would probably be a time-warping ‘sooner than in the next five years’.

Now Theresa May has further clarified things by explaining that the commitment to the extra 5,000 is ‘as soon as possible’. So that’s from 2020, to sooner than never, to within the next five years, to as soon as possible. And that’s something to look forward to.

It’s a commitment I’d take quite seriously, because it will very possibly coincide with the date for the closely related NHS Workforce plan, first proposed in the January Long Term Plan for ‘later in 2019’, widely anticipated in early April, now overdue and currently expected at, er, a date to be confirmed.

There was me being all sympathetic with my patients waiting a few weeks to see me, given that it feels like only yesterday, whatever that is, that we could give them an appointment within 48 hours. The doctor will see you soon, OK? That’s a promise.

Dr Tony Copperfield is a GP in Essex. Read more of Copperfield’s blogs at or follow him on Twitter @doccopperfield