Something unusual happened this week. Jeremy Hunt actually made good on one of his pledges. I sense your disbelief, gentle reader, but stay with me; April Fools’ Day is at least one more blog away. Back in June 2015, in the speech he called the ‘GP New Deal’ (for reasons unclear, since it was neither a deal, nor did it offer anything new) Mr Hunt said he would ‘do something about the bureaucracy, paperwork and inappropriate workload’. Now at the time I assumed this was more of the standard ‘jam tomorrow’ flim-flam we’ve grown used to from the Department of Health, but how wrong I was; it turns out this week that the NHS has indeed dramatically shrunk the primary care stationery mountain, by intercepting half a million documents on their way towards GP in-trays and cunningly hiding them in a shed instead.
The House of Commons was scandalised, but I think they’ve been a bit short-sighted; it’s surely high time for this successful Hiding-Things-In-A-Shed approach to be rolled out across the whole health policy spectrum. Think about it: troublesome striking junior doctors? Simply hide ‘em in a shed! Patients lined up on trolleys in corridors? Shed! Worst A&E figures since time began? GIMME AN S! GIMME AN H! GIMME AN E! OK you get the idea.
‘Hey Pete, what about patient safety?’ I hear you cry, but remember – these are letters from hospital we’re talking about. You know the kind of thing:
‘Presenting Complaint: SCROTUM PAIN
Investigations and Treatment: IV FLUIDS/TROPONIN/D-DIMER/MRI HEAD
Diagnosis: OVARIAN CYST
Outcome: DIED IN DEPARTMENT/SELF DISCHARGE
Plan: GP FOLLOW UP’
Most of the time I’m more confused after reading than when I started. Let ‘em stay in the bloody shed I say.
What’s instructive to me is not the letters-in-a-shed thing itself, but the government response. Now I wouldn’t for one second want to suggest here that Jeremy Hunt’s stance on patient safety was mere political posturing repeatedly belied by his own actions; I kind of already did that last month, and you gotta keep your content fresh. But isn’t it odd that a man who persistently bashes the medical profession about our ‘duty of candour’ should respond to learning about Shedgate in March 2016 by keeping entirely schtum for four months before releasing a so-vague-it’s-virtually-impenetrable statement a third the length of this blog on the day before the parliamentary holidays, and then never mentioning it again until he was summoned to the Commons when the story broke a year later? No doubt he’ll now be keen to lay low for a while. Well, I know just the place…
Dr Pete Deveson is a GP in Surrey. You can follow him on Twitter @PeteDeveson