My doctor is an expert in me. We have known each other for nearly 20 years. I don’t remember the first time we met, but I do remember we got to know each other over a period of a few months when I was first diagnosed with high blood pressure. In those days you used to see a GP for high blood pressure, though nowadays it is a nurse or even a machine that checks it and uploads the results to your medical record. We had time then, in the appointments that seemed so much less hurried than they do now, to share some details of our lives.
My doctor is an expert in me. When my wife began to fall ill, my doctor already knew quite a bit about us. I remember very clearly the day she came round to our house. I thought that Jean might have flu or a chest infection, but my doctor knew straight away that it was more serious than that and she stayed with us until the ambulance arrived.
My doctor is an expert in me. My doctor was away when I had my heart attack, but she called round as soon as she got back. I had only been home from hospital for a day and was struggling to look after Jean. My doctor was a tremendous help then, organising district nurses, social services and carers to come and help.
My doctor is an expert in me. When I go to see her it’s like seeing an old friend. She doesn’t need to search her computer to check what medication I am taking or find out how many heart attacks I have had. She asks how I am coping without Jean instead of wasting her time talking to me about smoking.
I saw my doctor on Easter Sunday. She was working in her practice all alone. I knew she was going to be there and I bought her a cake. I was the only patient there. She explained that the practice had to stay open so that patients wouldn’t go to the hospital A&E. I wondered if the other patients knew the practice was open and she said they had all been sent a text message before the weekend. It was two in the afternoon and I was the only patient she had seen all day. She made me a cup of tea and we sat together in the practice garden and shared the cake. We wondered whether in the future GPs would ever get the chance to know their patients. More time for patients and professionals to get to know eachother doesn’t seem to be part of any party manifesto. Personally I am happy to wait to see my own doctor, but if I didn’t have my own doctor, what would be the point in waiting to see a stranger who might be an expert in all sorts of things, but knows nothing of me?
My doctor looked tired and unhappy. She was due to retire last year but couldn’t find someone to take her place and she couldn’t bear the thought of the practice being forced to close, so she offered to keep working until a replacement could be found. There are not enough GPs. Politicians are desperate to appeal to voters by promising ever more without facing up to the reality that too few people are already trying to do too much. My doctor thinks that in the future GPs won’t see their own patients, but will manage teams of healthcare assistants, nurses and who knows, even robots to see their patients for them. I think it’s already getting like that.
Perhaps some things will get better. Perhaps one day they will fix it so that everyone who needs to can access my medical record when they need to. Perhaps one day my hospital appointments won’t get cancelled and then rebooked without my knowledge. But my fear is that a GP of my own, an expert in me, when I really need them, not on Easter Day, but when life has made me a person who needs to be known, will no longer be available on the NHS.