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Since when was ‘befriending the elderly’ part of GPs’ remit?



Oh Dear God. It probably all started when those nice caring Uber-cardigans at the RCGP sent out that press release before Xmas. You remember, the one that asked GPs to make sure our patients hadn’t bought themselves a cheap gas cooker that might leak carbon monoxide and/or go ‘boom’ in the night.

What would happen, I wondered, if such a potentially dangerous document were to fall into the wrong hands?

My worst fears have been realised. Someone at Labour HQ has seen it, passed it up the food chain and Weird Ed has promised that if he is elected as our next Prime Minister then vulnerable elderly patients can expect their GP to pop in for a friendly chat and a cuppa.

Oh, well. It’s not like we’re busy. As we’re in the kitchen putting the kettle on for a nice relaxing pot of tea for two and feigning interest while Mrs Batty goes on and on about her swollen ankles we’ll have ample opportunity to check the serial numbers of her cooker, fridge freezer and tumble dryer.

While the tea’s brewing – and there will certainly be bonus QOF points available for warming the pot and/or suggesting low-calorie alternatives to her usual three sugars – we’re expected to sneak upstairs and take a peek into her airing cupboard to make sure that her boiler isn’t on the blink making a note of any loose rugs or worn carpets that might represent a trip and fall hazard along the way.

Who amongst us, while poring over textbooks of anatomy and physiology at Medical School didn’t dream that one day we’d be rummaging among old ladies’ smalls to check that their hot water cylinders are toasty warm and properly insulated?

Last but not least, we’re expected to ask Mrs B whether she feels a bit lonely and suggest that she joins a befriending group.

No-one should underestimate the effect that social isolation has on older people’s health, there’s plenty of research out there showing that money spent on social inclusion is money well spent. But the same researchers make the obvious point that reducing social isolation and supporting the elderly is an issue for public health, not a primary care.

In other words, Mr Miliband, it’s not in my in tray.

But Ed, do encourage your candidates to enquire about older voters’ wellbeing while they’re door-stepping?

For example: ‘If we are in a position to form the next government, how would you feel about getting back on the dance floor, Mrs Batty?’

‘What, with these ankles? Piss off. And keep your hands off the Hobnobs. They’re only for family.’

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