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The Friends and Family Test

OK, I confess: on occasion I have expressed the opinion, in stark defiance of GMC guidance, that I wouldn’t allow Dr [identity masked for legal reasons] to treat my goldfish for chilblains.

Neither would I willingly adhere to any treatment regime he or she recommended, nor would I advise any friend, relative or passing acquaintance to do likewise.

I have toyed with the idea of breaking into his/her surgery under cover of darkness and cordoning off the entrance to his/her consulting room with hi-vis tape reading ‘CRIME SCENE – DO NOT ENTER’ as a service to mankind.

And when I settle down for an afternoon’s postgraduate education and see that he/she is sitting a few rows behind, I look forward to hearing him/her ask the sort of dumb-assed questions in the post-presentation Q&A that could only prove beyond all reasonable doubt that he/she knew sod all about medicine when he/she arrived and has either slept through the entire lecture (I have video footage confirming this on at least one occasion) or had understood not a single word uttered by any of the speakers beyond, “Thank you for your kind attention”. 

And yet, I’ll bet you a generic aspirin to a branded Bayer that in answer to Mr Cameron’s latest patient survey, ‘Would you recommend Dr X to a friend?’, each and every one of his/her patients who have been fortunate enough to survive would answer with an unequivocal, ‘You betcha!’.

Of course, this may be sour grapes. As you’ll probably know by now there’s more chance of my being awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature than there is of my patients submitting glowing reports to feedback websites.

I’m the sort of doctor who only prescribes antibiotics when there’s a reasonable chance that they’ll do more good than harm, thinks that sleeping pills aren’t really the answer to life’s problems and uses imaging and lab tests to confirm a feasible working diagnosis rather than ordering one for every symptom to be on the safe side.

I’ll refer for a second opinion only after I’ve made a decent stab at providing a first one. Put bluntly, and at risk of sounding immodest, I’m a bloody good GP doing his best to juggle the Department of Health’s increasingly ludicrous demands on his time, with a preternatural instinct to act in his patients’ best interests. Just like most of you.

And like all of you, I have to deal with patients who think that the definition of a Proper Good Doctor is one who accedes to every request, however unjustifiable, prescribes for every symptom, however trivial and scans every aching head, swollen joint or upset stomach.

So I’m not going to make space in my diary for the ‘Patients’ GP of the Year’ award dinner, any more than I’m going to pay attention when the viewers’ votes are tallied for ‘Best TV Series’ or the readers vote for ‘Book of the Year’. Because their opinions count for bugger all. X Factor is not great art and Fifty Shades of Grey is not great literature.

I refer you to my learned mate, a barrister. Whenever the twelve good men and true reach a verdict that bears no relationship to the evidence presented, he simply shrugs his shoulders and moves on.

‘The People have spoken,’ he says, ‘demonstrating yet again what a bunch of numbskulls they really are.’

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