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The terrifying prospect of a spectre

Interesting choice of words from Professor Sir Bruce Keogh, medical director of the NHS. He suggests that the NHS’ plans to actively encourage GPs to offer online consultations ‘opens the spectre of 24/7 GP access’.

Now, it may be a tad presumptuous for a humble Pulse blogger to correct a Professor, Sir. Then again, I’m a GP, and, in my case, that stands for Great Pedant as well as general practitioner. And I’d like to suggest that his medical directorship didn’t mean ‘spectre’. He meant something else.

How do I know? Because ‘spectre’ has negative connotations, my dictionary defining it as a mental image of something unpleasant or menacing – and from the context, it’s quite clear that Professor Sir Bruce was enthusing over 24 hour access, rather than feeling nauseated or menaced by it. Plus, it simply doesn’t make sense to ‘Open a spectre’. Open a shopping centre, maybe. But not a spectre.

I suspect the word he meant to use was ‘prospect’: it presses the correct positivity buttons and can be ‘opened’ (or, at least, ‘opened up’). Also, interestingly and clinchingly, if you take the ‘P’ out of ‘prospect’, you’ve got an anagram of ‘spectre’*.

And taking the P is exactly what our NHS Medical Director seems to be doing. Because Skype consulting is a typical example of technology running way ahead of clinical need, providing solutions to problems that don’t exist. Except for the perceived one of access, that is – as in finding more ways for the punters to bug their doctors at all hours of the day as the whim, and internet connection, takes them. There are many things I’d like to use my well-earned down-time for, but logging onto neurotics bored of Facebook isn’t one of them.

In other words, the prospect is terrifying and transparent. Does that remind you of anything? So maybe Prof Sir Bruce did mean ‘spectre’, after all.

*Yes, all right, for the benefit of those even more pedantic than me, you have to swap on ‘o’ for an ‘e’, too.

Dr Tony Copperfield is a GP in Essex