Friday, 9 March 2012

The casual cruelty of NHS bureaucracy

I phoned my GP surgery on Monday, having received a letter from them about some recent blood tests. The letter said I needed to speak to a doctor about the results: I could either arrange an appointment or speak to them on the phone. I phoned the surgery immediately, to be told that the earliest they could manage to get a doctor on the phone was Friday sometime between 12 and 2. Not having felt all that well in recent weeks, and having, in recent months, heard from a friend needing intensive and prolonged treatment after blood tests revealed a serious medical condition, I spent the rest of the week in a state of mild agitation.

We have all been through this, I know: there can be few NHS patients in this country over the age of 25 who aren’t familiar with this particularly insidious form of low-level torture.

Today I got the call. It went like this:

“This is Doctor X.” She pauses expectantly. I say nothing, as I have already identified myself and would like to get to hear the results rather than indulge in small talk about the weather or where I’m going on my holidays (“changeable” and “not a clue”, by the way). “What can I do for you today, Mr Grønmark?” she adds. Rather than risk being rude, I decide to remain silent. “Oh, yes. You've had blood tests. Let me see. Fasting glucose level… fine. One set of triglycerides high, but that’s okay. Cholesterol fine. So that looks alright. How often do you have blood tests?”

“Once a year”

“That’s fine. I should stick with that.”

An unexceptional exchange, I realise. But why couldn’t that information have been included in the initial letter? Why did I have to be put through four days of needless worry to learn that there's nothing new wrong with me? 

I presume the answer is that, at some stage, due to complaints about some patients not having had their test results explained to them clearly (or on Urdu, or whatever) GPs have been ordered to discuss all test results directly with patients, or they'll be penalised financially. Or else, it was introduced as part of some multi-billion pound initiative dreamt up by highly-paid consultants with a title like “Every Patient Counts” or “No Patient Left Behind” or “Patients? We Love Them to Death!” or "The NHS - we care so much, it's painful!"

No wonder the NHS is rapidly gaining a reputation for needless cruelty and chronic inefficiency. Of course I’m pleased that the test revealed nothing new wrong with me. But I really resent the four days of vague anxiety this immensely silly and inefficient system put me through.

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