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Patients who smell



I realise that blogs like this only really justify their existence if they regularly make biting satirical points about the medicopolitical landscape. But, sometimes, you just want to write about patients who smell, and that’s what I’m going to do. If you’re looking for profundity or parody, move on – there’s nothing for you to see here.

So there I am, this morning, consulting with the parent of a child with earache when it dawns on me that the otalgic one has been methodically pressing my panic button, secreted under my desk, for a good few minutes. And a good few minutes later, there is a timid knock on my door preceding the appearance of the very flimsiest of all our receptionists checking that everything is OK. And it is. Why the delay? Because we all know the false alarm is far more likely than the genuinely violent patient, even if there is metaphorical blood on the carpet over the earache/antibiotic debate.

Whereas, when, this afternoon, I send an internal message to multiple recipients that I am in urgent need of some air-freshener, the response is instantaneous and astonishing. Within seconds, there is a queue of canister wielding well-wishers outside my door, people in stink-busters uniforms abseiling through my window filling the air with the scent of vanilla and pressed linen, and the phone ringing off the hook with people checking that I’m OK.

Which, again, I am. The odour of the patient who smells like he has a dead ferret down his trousers (possibly because he has) is gone, and I’m good to go for the next patient.

So: panic alarm virtually ignored; request for air freshener sparks mayhem. This isn’t just about a ‘zerodour’ tolerance policy. It’s about people on the ground knowing what’s going on and what really matters.

That’s it, really. And just to clarify, this blog has nothing whatsoever to do with the fact that general practice stinks to high heaven because it’s in a decompositional state of neglect, and that if Jeremy Hunt really values us, as he keeps insisting is the case, he should be asking us troops in the trenches what the real problems are and where the real solutions lie rather than relying on yes-men advisers who are just toeing the Tory line and feeding the Tory obsessions. And that if he doesn’t, we’re all going to be running, gagging, away from primary care, desperately looking for greener pastures and fresher air.

No. It’s just about patients who smell.

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