Past Posts...

Affection Love and Duty, These Three

Dr No’s mother is a heartsink patient, and she happens to be dying. Unpalatable as they may be, Dr No says these two things as matters of fact. On one level, as a doctor, he cannot not see his mother as he would see a patient – and the hallmarks of heartsinkery are undeniably present. Although Dr No has had a hunch about prognosis for some time, it was his mother’s consultant who gave it form, in a measure of months. She is a heartsink patient, with only months left to live. Those who care to opine that heartsink is a term of derogatory abuse might also care to reflect that the term is not so much a patient label, notwithstanding the inescapable fact it is one, as a useful term from the lexicon of countertransference, under the general heading of those feelings and emotions engendered in a doctor by his or her patient. Countertransference matters: those who choose to ignore it do so at great peril, not just for the patient, but also for themselves.

Making Friends and Family of Us All

Paul Corrigan, whose posts show a worrying trend towards titles so long they stand as posts in their own right, has declared himself a friend of FFT, the punter-friendly friends and family test based on asking patients at or soon after discharge whether they would recommend the unit they have just left to friends and family. The test is popular with government for its apparent simplicity, resented by managers for the real extra burden it imposes, and derided by front-line staff, for whom the test might be better known as the Flying F*ck Test: the punters don’t give a FF about responding, and we don’t give a FF about the results. Although first announced last year, FF testing was back in the news last week after friendly we’re all in this together Dave announced plans to extend FF testing to general practice. The news got a cool response from senior GPs; others went further. One called the test ‘meaningless’; another dubbed it ‘trite’.

Full Tank of Gas

Unbeknownst, presumably, to today’s Tory sound bite chefs, in Dr No’s youth to be full of gas had other meanings: to be full of wind, puff or bombast. These earlier meanings recurred in Dr No’s mind over the weekend, as the BBC’s news zombies trotted out Dave’s full tank of gas sound bite time and again. Presumably, like Camilla’s use of wicked, gas is meant to sound groovy. LOL! Where, Dr No wondered, was Little Nellie when you needed her? Dr No’s earlier scheme to pour sugar in Dave’s petrol rapidly gave way to an overwhelming wish to drop a match in the tank.

The Computer Says You Have Schizophrenia!

In his zeal to declare the NHS open for business, David Cameron announced in December 2011 that it was ‘simply a waste’ not to flog off anonymised NHS data to the pharmceutical industry, to help development of new drugs and their testing on hapless patients. Dr No has presented this somewhat tongue in cheek: the NHS does have vast amounts of data, albeit of varying quality, and there is legitimate and useful research to be done on that data. Indeed, Dr No has in the past done just such research. The red rag to Dr No’s bull was the sale of data to commercial concerns. Here, on the other side of the public-private divide, the rules such as they are, are different. We are advancing on Libor country. Profit, not patients, now rule, and it is remarkable how bendy the rules can become. Recently, the life insurance industry poked a sharp stick in GPs’ eyes by using subject access requests to obtain customer (subject) medical records, shaving the best part of £100 off the cost. It may not be illegal, but it is certainly tacky.

British Professional Medicine: RIP 2013

Everyone, but everyone, is a professional these days. Even benefit scroungers like Dr No are professional benefit scroungers. Sociologists over the years have woven so many strands and threads through the social construct of professionalism that the term has become so broad and debased as to be meaningless. To borrow from a line attributed to the poet John Lydgate and later famously adapted by Abraham Lincoln, you can professionalise some people all of the time, perhaps even others some of the time, but you definitely can’t professionalise all people all of the time. If everyone is a professional, then no one is.


The school most at large in government today of the science that makes numerology appear rigorous is that known as Etonomics. As much a sect as a school, Etonomics holds that austerity is the one true path. Governments, according to its theories, must grip the economy as a giant python might a fat pig, and squeeze it back into shape. Those parts of the economy that fail to get back in shape face cuts, savage cuts. Not just an ear here, or a trotter there: whole limbs have to come off. These are the teachings of Etonomics, and, strangely enough, they don’t work. The python may enjoy a snack, but the economy dies.

These musings arose as Dr No read a seriously erudite assessment of the failing of Etonomics here. The assessment is long, but a one line summary might be ‘you ain’t seen nothing yet’, perhaps suffixed with ‘and you may never, because Tory austerity is unachievable’. To reach this conclusion, Lanchester, the author, makes a distinction between ‘cuts’ and ‘austerity’. Cuts, says Lanchester, are real, and do the damage, while austerity is an orchestration, and a con.

The Lollipop Men

A journey of a thousand miles begins from the spot under one’s feet.

–Lao Tzu, Tao Te Ching

Two of the lollipop men NHS grunts most love to hate put their heads above the parapet recently. The anti-GM crop man who is himself part of a GM crop said doctors had lost the human touch, and must in future care more. The minister whose brains if extracted and compacted would make a passable mothball fumed about the normalisation of cruelty in the NHS. The familiar vistas of patients managed like battery hens, caged in their beds and kept in the dark, were rolled out across the media. A picture was conjured of the NHS as a giant sausage machine, taking live patients in at one end, and extruding a grotesque string of body-bags at the other. In between, moths of death flit in and out of the shadows, undaunted by ministerial mothballs. If the NHS, by these accounts, can be summed up in one word, it is Hades, realm of the eponymous Lord of the Underworld, a dark realm which all may enter, but none may leave.

59m in the Life of an Ambulance Control Centre

These days, nothing really happens until it happens on social media. Apart from curmudgeonly old duffers like Dr No, anybody who is anything is busy on twitter. Why, even HRH is on twitter! The NHS, it seems, is all over twitter like pigeons all over Trafalgar Square. Hospital trusts, ambulance control centres, continence control services, you name them, there they are on twitter, tweeting away, like pigeons all over…

In case he is missing something – perhaps he is, since everyone is at it – Dr No decided to observe in real time the emerging tweets of one NHS twitter account over a period of one hour. In the interests of openness and accountability, he presents his observations and, being twitter, it should be read from the bottom of the post upwards. But then, Dr No has never suggested twitter ever made any sense…

Hot Burning Clouseau

Hot Burning Coales, the enigmatic London GP who has for a time been a thorn in the side of the Royal College of GPs, is showing signs that she is about to start hammering at them like a pneumatic drill. She is alarmed by the absurd pattern of results from the College’s Clinical Skills Assessment, the ‘exit’ exam for trainee GPs. Her concern is that white British candidates go through on the nod, while Asian International (non-UK medical school - IMG) graduate candidates are systematically failed, on the grounds that they are not ‘one of us’. Certainly the raw figures appear to back up the suggestion that there is a case to be answered. The College’s own statistics (page 28 here) largely (she has skimped a bit on the detail) confirm those reported by HBC: 96.1% of white UK graduates pass on their first attempt, while the figure for Asian non-UK graduates is 36.9%.

The Curse of a Fortunate Man

Over the years Dr No has encountered a number of single handed general practices. His first encounter was on a Scottish island, as a student, in a practice made memorable by two things: the sweet malt smell from the oil drum sized barrel of beer that brewed beside the kitchen range, and the loan of the practice Land Rover, with a licence to roam the island. Later, as a locum, he found single-handed GPs on leave a reliable source of work: he could be transported, as if by a revolving door, to the seat of a single handed GP. For a week or two, he had eyes-only access to almost every aspect of the practice. He saw the intimate details first hand, not as a squinting sociologist might, but as a living participant. And living practices they certainly were, but pretty rum many of them were too. Too often for comfort, opening a drawer in search of a prescription pad, Dr No was greeted not with a jumble of papers, tongue depressors and broken tape measures, but with the clink-chink of bottles of high proof but non-surgical spirit.