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Can patients really not afford to support the NHS?

‘I want to be referred for that laser hair removal from my upper lip.’

If the woman in question had been a model who spends her day being photographed close up for glossy magazines then the request would not have been entirely without merit. Even then, I probably would have suggested she might like to pay for this procedure herself instead of burdening the tax payer with the cost.

But in this instance the woman was not a model – in fact she is not employed in any capacity. Add to this the fact she is morbidly obese, hypertensive, diabetic and almost certainly has polycystic ovaries, the phrase that immediately came to mind was that one involving deck-chairs and the Titanic.

As usual though, it seems I am in the minority. Earlier this year it was reported that there has been a dramatic increase in the popularity of plastic surgery in Britain. So even during a period of austerity, apparently, people can still find the money to pay for collagen lip injections and breast implants.

I suppose it is human nature that when faced with an enormity of difficult tasks we choose the easiest ones to tackle first. That, combined with the endless trash that pumps out of television sets, encouraging the population to focus on appearance rather than substance.

Yet, it is staggering what nonsense people worry about. Like the patient I saw recently with probable cardiac chest pain, who really was not interested in my discussion about how we should investigate her possible heart problem. No, she was more interested in asking me why one of her arm pits smells more than the other.

Seemingly even the poorest in society have deep pockets when it comes to paying for eyebrow piercings and neck tattoos. Yet ask them to contribute even the tiniest amount towards their NHS care – for example, ‘Maybe you could buy some paracetamol for 20p from the supermarket rather than ask me to write a prescription, which will end up costing the tax payer several pounds?’ – and they look at you like you have just suggested the wholesale dismantling of the welfare state.

Dr David Turner is a GP in west London