I’ve always assumed that the most pointless consultation I’ll ever have would be this one: a young woman attends with what she thinks is a malignant melanoma on the sole of her foot. She’s right in that it’s on the sole of her foot, but wrong in that it isn’t a malignant melanoma. No. It’s dirt, which I scrape off with a fingernail.
But I realise, now, that this isn’t my most pointless consultation because a) She got something out of it (reassurance and a cleaner foot) and b) So did I (a minor op fee and a good laugh). Oh, and c) Because I’ve just had an even more pointless one.
This time, it’s a stroppy dad presenting his child with… well, with nothing. The child has been suffering a minor localised rash which dad and partner decided might be ringworm, so they applied an over-the-counter antifungal cream which cleared it up. ‘I’ve had to wait two weeks for this appointment,’ he says, ‘So there’s nothing to show you now.’
But if I think the one minute he takes to explain this might offer me some welcome surgery catch-up time, I’m wrong. Because he spends the remaining nine bemoaning the fact that the wait for a routine appointment is so long, suggesting that children in particular should always be seen urgently and pointing out that you could die in that time, Something Must Be Done etc etc. In short, he spends the entire appointment bitching about the lack of appointments.
I should, of course, tell him that this is actually an exemplar of self management of minor illness, and that, if only more patients did the same, minus the appointment booking bit, the world would be a better place. And that the lack of appointments is down to utterly pointless consultations like the one we were having. And that the long wait in reception, which he hasn’t complained about yet, but doubtless will, is not helped by me having to prolong consultations to point all this out. But I don’t, because something about his tattoos and lack of neck tells me that irony isn’t his thing.
He stomps off with his rash-free kid. ‘Other surgeries are available,’ I call after him. Even if appointments aren’t.
Dr Tony Copperfield is a GP in Essex. You can follow him on Twitter @DocCopperfield