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A sack of spuds and a bonding session

For a locum GP, lunchtimes can be a dull affair.

Many locums are not obligated to partake in paperwork, for reasons of continuity, lack of knowledge of the local processes and also because they set out to avoid this explicitly – after all, it is a major draw of locum work in the first place.

This is more than just lunch, but an essential coping mechanism

One option is to set your morning surgery late, and afternoon surgery early, but sometimes this is not feasible due to individual practice’s requirements. There is, therefore, often a two or even three hour gap with idle thumb.

Sometimes I go home, but often that optimal ‘time available/distance to home’ coefficient just doesn’t quite compute. And besides, there are only so many articles I can write for this blog during that lunchtime.

This is why I was acutely intrigued after booking one particular locum with a rural practice, when the practice manager requested me to ‘bring some potatoes’ to the surgery. 

On the day of the locum I made sure to get a big pack of Maris Pipers (I decided on a pricey potatoes – first impressions count), and handed it in to the practice manager. She winked and asked me to come back to the staff room after my morning surgery.

I entered the room at lunch. The sight of a large metal silo with steam erupting from the top met my eyes. ‘It’s a soup maker!’ the practice manager said, enthusiastically. A bit of an anticlimax, after all that suspense, I have to admit, but I guess I could eat.

As if by Pavlovian instinct, everyone started coming into the room over the next half hour. Initially the admin staff and practice manager arrived, then the two nurses came in together, then one by one stressed looking GPs. The soup was now a beautiful thick consistency, and bowls of the stuff started being passed around. One of the nurses had brought in an impressively large crusty baguette, apparently she made it herself. People started chatting, asking each other how their day was. GPs started discussing a complicated patient with personality disorder. There were sounds of commiseration when they realised who the patient was. One of the staff brought up an issue with the practice phones and the practice manager suggested some solutions.

The GPs introduced themselves to me and we learnt a little about each other, from small talk such as holiday plans, to slightly more serious concerns at home – such as how one of the partners, Joanne, is considering a different college for her teenage son after she didn’t get into medical school during this year’s application.

We talked, we laughed, we had a meal together and we found out more about each other. Then people started dispersing. First it was the GPs who had visits, then the nurses who had early afternoon surgery. We all had a full stomach, and a well hydrated kidney, ready for the afternoon, all more relaxed. The staff have a safe forum to discuss problems and more importantly, offer support to each other. I have worked at so many surgeries where this kind of support is non-existent because of time constraints or there simply isn’t that culture. However, in this current climate in general practice, this is more than just lunch, but an essential coping mechanism, and a real learning point for beleaguered colleagues everywhere. 

The secret locum is a locum GP in England