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We’ve got to stop behaving like call centre headset monkeys

It really started with, 'Do you want fries with that?' Back in my burger-eating days every request for a quarter pounder with cheese would result in attempt to entice me into a secondary purchase of a deep fried apple pie or a shake to go. Had I wanted an extra treat I’d have asked for it at the time I placed my order, that’s the way I work.

Then it was the broadband helpline. Whenever I’d call to let them know that my e-mail wasn’t downloading or my holiday snaps weren’t uploading they’d pass me from pillar to post, make a few half-hearted attempts to fix things and after a few hours on hold, by which time the problem had sorted itself out they’d look down at their script and recite, 'Is there anything else I can help you with today?'

Well; they could come and mow my lawn, sort out the drip drip drip from the bathroom tap, lend me a few quid till payday and sort out the git who habitually parks his car across my driveway. Would they be in a position to take on any of those tasks? I thought not. But, hey, thanks for asking, it made me feel really valued as a customer.

Why is this on my mind? I’ve just spent a few hours sitting back to back with another GP triaging incoming calls and engaged in the traditional art of fire-fighting. Indeed, some callers insisted that their child was literally 'on fire'. We were busier than a Quality Street salesman giving out free samples at a midwifery conference.

So why, for God’s sake, was my oppo finishing every phone call with a sincere, 'Is there anything else I can help you with today?'

I’ve nothing against, 'Is that OK?' or, 'Do call back if things don’t improve' but inviting Mrs Jackson to reprise her well-worn account of those funny turns she gets when she bends over the freezer cabinet at Iceland is just barmy when we’ve got twenty more calls on hold.

We’ve got to stop behaving like call centre headset monkeys. If we don’t then we’ll only have ourselves to blame when our patients start to tar us with the same brush.

Dr Tony Copperfield is a GP in Essex