I am all for self-care for women, and I am not one for running to the doctor every time I have a small ache or pain. However, I feel that our GPs are there to perform a service to keep their community as fit and healthy as possible. They are the buffer for our hospitals. I also believe that by the time we reach a mature age we know our bodies and when they might need a little intervention from medical science.
When I was young, I remember that doctors made house calls, and you did not need an appointment to see them in the surgery, but you just turned up at surgery time and took your turn. Times moved on, and before Covid-19 hit, it was always quite difficult to get an appointment as GPs were overworked with too many patients. If you wanted an emergency appointment in our area, i.e. one that day, you had to get up and start dialling the surgery at 8 a.m. These appointments are like hen’s teeth and will not be given out without you undergoing a grilling about how ill you actually were, and could you wait to see the doctor in a few days. I was once asked,as the first question, on one of these early morning calls, “Are you ill?”. I was incredulous; why else would I be calling but then I was being flippant as I am sure it is one of the questions on a pre-determined list.
However, this week, I developed pleurisy, which I have had a few times, so I recognise the symptoms and know what to do. A virus or bacteria can cause pleurisy, and only the bacterial infection can be treated with antibiotics. It can clear up in a few days, but if it doesn’t, one needs to contact the doctor for an examination to determine if it is a bacterial infection, in which case antibiotics are needed.
When my breathing became so painful, I contacted my surgery to make an appointment with a doctor, which is when the fun began. I was asked the normal list of questions, including, “Have you tested for Covid?”. This was not a stupid question as the symptoms are very similar; however, when I replied I had a negative lateral flow test that morning, I felt she lost interest in me. But we battled on, and at the end of the questions, the receptionist felt I did indeed need to see a doctor to get a prescription. However, I was then informed that the doctors were not doing face to face except in emergencies, but I could have a video consultation with a doctor 8 days later. At this point, my flippancy button clicked on, and I said, “But I might be dead by then.” I was duly reprimanded.
I did point out that the only way for a doctor to determine whether I had pleurisy due to bacteria would be for them to listen to my chest with a stethoscope. There was silence. So tentatively, I pointed out that this might be difficult with a video consultation. My interrogator was clearly consulting her question sheet and realised she had hit a brick wall. I might add that my humour had also run out as I was feeling pretty ill and when you have pleurisytalking can be very painful as you can only breathe in short breaths, so you feel very breathless.
By then, my interrogator had found a solution. She then told me a doctor would call but not that day as there was no doctor available. I could not work out whether that meant they had too many other patients to call or whether they were sitting on a beach somewhere trying to run their surgery from a mobile-like most of our government last week.
I do not like to complain, but at the end of that conversation, I was left with no doctor’s appointment, no medication, and still feeling like s***. I am sure the receptionist was equally frustrated.
One of the questions she asked was, ‘do you have any underlying health problems?” and when I said, ‘No’, she said, “So you’re healthy.” I pointed out that I was healthy two days ago, but now I was unhealthy hence my call to the doctor. I suppose that was not how I should have responded, but both she and I were running out of patience.
I now understand that the Telegraph has written a report on GPs flouting rules on appointments in person despite the end of lockdown and the government saying in May that doctors could go back to seeing patients. Click HERE for the article.
Anyway, I had to self-medicate, which is not ideal, and a friend who had some antibiotics kindly gave them to me, and the infection cleared up very quickly.
I am sure if I had spoken to a doctor, this could all have been avoided, and my suggestion would be that the receptionist needed a little more training in the handling of patients; perhaps she could have gone off-piste and used some common sense and not just stuck to the script.
I despair that there will be a run on these sorts of calls and an outbreak of ‘surgery rage’ with winter around the corner. Let’s hope that common sense prevails and a new, much needed post-Covid system is implemented.
P.S. Please note I think the NHS in hospitals have done a fantastic job these last 18 months and deserve much praise and thanks.