I fear I’m about to breach some sort of blogger/columnist code which may well have the editor hauling me in for detention. The thing is, I want to refer, in my own blog, to one of my own columns – this one, about how the idea of indiscriminately encouraging patients to attend their GP after just three weeks of cough, in case it’s cancer, makes me want to hawk on the campaign posters. This may appear self referential and self indulgent, but my justification is that I don’t care. Because I was right and it’s worse than I thought.
I have just seen five patients in my morning surgery complaining of cough and every single one attended because of this sodding campaign. FIVE PATIENTS. That’s nearly an hour of prime consulting time wasted. Not one will turn out to have cancer and I say this with some confidence because four of them were young and didn’t smoke (oh yeah, and had colds, which isn’t usually how lung cancer presents).
As for the other one? Ah, that’s where it gets interesting. She’d been suffering a cough for two years. Yes, two years. Doctor’s logic? Well, that’s nothing to worry about because if it really was caused by lung cancer it would have killed you by now. Patient’s logic? If three weeks equates to lung cancer then two years must be something proportionately awful – like 35 lung cancers (do the maths). So she was genuinely terrified.
All of which goes to show that even I have underestimated the various ways in which these campaigns can scare the pants off punters who, after all, are endlessly inventive in how they misunderstand health advice. And that’s why I’m blogging this addendum to my column. The campaign, after all, is called ‘Be clear on cancer’. So I thought I ought to clarify why it’s absolute bullshit.
Dr Tony Copperfield is a GP in Essex.