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Life with a two hour lunchbreak

My family and I moved to Australia six months ago so I thought it was a good time to write a ‘report’. 

I don’t normally write ‘straight’ articles because I don’t really do journalism, my writing just isn’t up to it. And I certainly never use the word ‘I’. 

GPs are important

‘I’ is a dangerous word. In Yevgeny Zamyatan’s 1921 novella ‘We’ , which is a damning satire of the Soviet Union, there is no ‘I’, only the collective ‘we’, who are forced to live and work in transparent buildings. 

We don’t live in glass houses in the UK and it’s not 1920s Russia but from an intellectual stand point we’re not far off. If ‘I think’ then our guardians at the GMC can say ‘you must not’, and try to lynch me in the interests of patient safety. 

But because I’m now on the other side of the world and have relinquished my right to practice in the UK I feel a certain comforting distance. 

Australia is a strangely familiar place. You travel for thousands of miles, cramped up in the white noise of aeroplane cabins  and the globalised Pret-a-Mangers of international airports only to land on the other side of the world and be greeted by people who look like they’ve just hiked it from Croydon. Aussie manners and sense of humour are very British, they say sorry for everything, even when it’s their fault and they enjoy a good whinge, especially about their politicians. But there are spiders here as big as your fist and there are birds which look like they’ve been hand painted by Gaugin.  

I now work as an independent contractor for a corporate in Adelaide. And to be honest they’re not too corporate. I have between 15 and 20 minutes per patient and I get a two hour lunch break. Let me just repeat that bit, I get between 15 and 20 minutes per patient and I get a two hour lunch break. 

According to the ‘evidence’ our patients are no more satisfied after 15 minutes than they are after ten. But this very peculiar and oh so very British evidence misses out one very important point. And that’s the moral and mental health of the GP. GPs are important. How we feel, how satisfied we are, how connected we are with our patients and how much emotional energy we can expend on them are important. 

One of the main reasons why I left the UK (apart from Brexit and the never-ending drizzle) was because these self-evidently important things are apparently not very important at all. We’re supposed to second rank our feelings, abrogate our emotional health and deny ourselves any self-respect. But this attitude is nothing more than a well rehearsed lie. 

It’s a lie which has been told by successive governments, taken up by frightened conformists and propagated by the media to preserve the hegemony of the ruling elite. A lie that even Yevgeny Zamyatin would have been proud of. 

During my two hour lunch break I walk home through the park, I have tea on the veranda, I play with my 18-month-old son and I go for a swim. I don’t feel guilty about it and I don’t beat myself up about it because when I go back to work I actually want to see my patients and I want to do the best I can for them. And after all isn’t that why I went to medical school? And I know it’s only a small thing but after all these years of writing my column it’s so nice to finally use the word ‘I’.