Wednesday, May 09, 2007

The Practice

It’s a daily trial for hundreds of thousands of people in the UK. Each day, early in the morning, these people ring the same telephone number, get a busy tone for an eternity and then hang up in frustration. They know full-well that every man and his dog are trying the same number at the same time. The lucky few after ringing continuously for upwards of half-an-hour, are connected to a nasty old witch who guards the holy book, with the ferocity of a bad-tempered fire-breathing dragon guarding a gold treasure. If you are lucky and the witch grants you an audience, then you may see your GP on the same day.

Don’t you dare to ask if appointments that are available later for next week – that practice was almost extinct a long time ago. Non-urgent appointments are harder to obtain than a bone from a rabid pit-bull. The receptionist is almost always rude and argumentative and asks you what is wrong with you, as if she is able to judge the severity of the problem, from the symptoms described over a telephone. If you do manage to make it to see the GP, they will ask you again anyway so it is not for his/her benefit either. Perhaps the receptionists get together at tea break and laugh at people’s embarrassing illnesses. Given the sadistic nature of the species, it would not be surprising at all. If you are late, then in some practices you can actually be fined or named and shamed. On the other hand, if you turn up on time and await your appointment time, it’s not unusual for you to be seen up to an hour late. After all sick people are just lazy layabouts who have nothing better to do with their time than bothering receptionists and lying in bed seeking sympathy. In contrast, the patient’s time is expendable and they can also be freely insulted. Clearly, none have urgent tasks such as picking children up from Nursery school or caring for elderly or even more sick people at home. A few years ago, with a previous practice, I was granted an audience with a female GP. Without so much as a ‘hello’ or a ‘how are you’, she snapped, “what’s the problem?” After describing the symptoms she interrupted while I was telling her what the illness was. “I don’t need you tell me what the bloody diagnosis is,” she snarled, extremely aggressively for no particular reason. I probably knew more about the subject than she did, but I let it pass when I saw her face. If there was such a thing as a past-life, she must have been a concentration camp guard because she jabbed me extremely hard a couple of minutes later, when giving me an injection. I put it down to temporary PMT, but according to other patients, she seemed to have it every day of the month. Talking to people around the country my experiences are not unusual.

FFS, why the hell should do we have to put up with this? What sense does it make to have the practice phones going beserk at 8.30 am each morning with hundreds of people ringing at the same time, as soon as the answering machine is switched off? If you try to do the sensible thing and wait until 9.15am, there are no appointments left and you are told to ring back in the morning. I think, I will suggest that my practice put their appointment book online so that patients can book an available appointment at their leisure. Then again, I may not because I'm a coward.


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