This might be controversial but it occurred to me that ‘comedy’ David Cameron and Andrew Lansley have been pinning much of their hopes for the Health and Social Care Bill on a perception that local doctors – GPs in their parlance – are best-suited to direct where spending on healthcare actually goes.
I’m not convinced that’s true. Why are people at the entry-level of the NHS being acclaimed as experts?
I suffer from a condition known as cluster headaches. Every couple of years, I get fast-onset, extremely painful one-sided migraine headaches at a rate of four or more every day, for a period lasting up to three months. It’s a rare condition – only around 50,000 people in the UK get it, which means very little research has been carried out.
When I went to my local doctors’ surgery with it, the GP I saw thought it was just a severe headache and told me to take some aspirin.
Aspirin won’t touch cluster headaches. By the time the drug takes effect, the headache is far too well-entrenched for it to make any difference at all. If I had accepted that doctor’s advice as being the best, most expert diagnosis available, I would have condemned myself to spending a quarter of a year in agony, every two years.
Instead, I went back, got properly diagnosed, and was put on injections of a substance that costs something like £25 a shot – which also raises questions about how much GPs will be willing to spend on a patient when they hold the budget.
Mrs Mike has a condition whereby the intervertebral discs – the shock absorbers between vertebrae – at the bottom of her spine have disappeared. There is an operation available on the NHS that would replace these discs with artificial ones, but this was never mentioned to her and I only found out by typing ‘intervertebral discs’ into the search box on the NHS website. Now, there might be a good reason for keeping this from her, but I doubt it.
Now these examples could be shot down by any critic as anecdotal, but there is evidence that this sort of thing is widespread.
Dr Phil Hammond, speaking on the Radio 4 show Heresy, tells us: “If you go to Dr Google, or his friend Professor Wikipedia, you have a 58 per cent chance of getting it right. Doctors are marginally ahead at about 75 per cent.”
And they tend to look up your ailment on the Internet as well! “Doctors use search engines too; it’s quite common for doctors to use Google,” said Dr Hammond on the same show. “If you look at their computer screen, you’ll actually see them typing… I had a mate who was a pain specialist… and he was teaching a junior doctor and a women came in who had Wartenberg’s Neuritis. He was looking at his notes before she came in and said to his junior doctor, ‘Look, I’ve never heard of this; let’s look it up on Wikipedia.’ They look it up, they make notes, and this woman walks in and says, ‘I’m terribly sorry; I was waiting outside and I heard you say to your junior doctor, you’ve never heard of Wartenberg’s Neuritis, you were going to look it up on Wikipedia. I thought I ought to warn you – I’m the person who wrote the entry.”
So we should not be hailing GPs as the experts who need to have control of NHS budgets. They’re not the experts. The experts are the consultants, surgeons or whoever, to whom they pass you if they find they can’t write a prescription to get rid of you.
The Bill must be scrapped. If we let the Tories make fools of us, it may be the last thing we do.