Friday, 23 July 2010
I have a prescription for some medication which I renew as required. I fax my request to the doctor's surgery and 48 hours later I can collect the prescription. Yesterday I did just that and made a mental note to trot up to the doctor's first thing Monday to collect it. This morning, I noticed a text on my phone titled "NHS". Brilliant, I thought, I've won a double by-pass in a NHS draw or a year's supply of prune juice as part of the NHS's campaign to get us all shitting regularly and on time.
But no, it was a text from my doctor. "We have received your fax. Could you phone the surgery to fix an appointment with a doctor to review your medication." This did not worry me: I thought good on them, I've been having this medication for a while and they want to check out whether it's still OK. What with funding difficulties, a black market in tubes of foul smelling but interesting creams, I know where they're coming from and I fully concur.
So I phoned the surgery - eventually. After discovering the number I had on my phone was no longer active. So I typed in the name and up popped loads of links. I thought best check the NHS link, only to find the telephone number was for somewhere in Strathclyde (about 400 miles away). Another link got me a recognisable number but I wasn't too sure and as this the site provided directions I click through. Up popped a website detailing the route by foot - how cool is that.
The phone rang and a sweet voice welcomed me to the clinic and gave me a number of options, including making an appointment. After a considerable wait relieved by another equally charming voice telling me that they were busy and would I like to phone back later, I was through to the receptionist. I explained why I'd phoned . "You sent me a text asking me to make an appointment ". "Well there's nothing here on your records Mr Coidan; when did you say it was sent? " "Sometime in the last two days." "Oh, I'll ask my colleagues." After a while she came back. "No, no one recalls sending you a text, but just to be sure I'll book you in. Will 12:10 today suit?"
I arrived at the surgery in good time. Isn't technology marvellous. Now instead of queuing up at reception to tell them you've arrived, on your death bed to see the old quack, you queue up for ages only to be told that they introduced a time saving logging in system - over there in the far corner. After choosing my language - I inadvertently pressed the French flag - memories of 1967 and an entante cordiale with a young fille - I entered my sex and date of birth.Sure enough I had an appointment at 12:20.
The extra 10 minutes was not a problem; however after half an hour I felt rather conspicious being the only person left in the waiting room. And then someone turned up, and apologising for the doctor and delay led me to another room. Away from prying eyes. And there I sat for a further 20 minutes; distracted by telling numerous heads that popped round the door that I was waiting for the doctor.
And Godot, I mean the Doctor finally appeared.
I've seen him before and he me, when I had jaundice in 2000. I arrived at the surgery completely yellow. I have never been seen so quickly. The queues just vanished. "Well, you're a bit late." was his first comment. "Now you're yellow the major inflammation of your liver has gone down, but I suppose you feel pretty bad nevertheless."
Today he asked what was the matter and I explained all about, the fax, the SMS, the fact that there was no record of it having been sent etc. "and so I'm ...here. " He then brought up my medical records on screen. "No, no record of an SMS on your records." Turning the screen so I could see it he scrolled down immeasurable pages of entries. I felt sick. " Now this is your last blood test. It's your cholesterol - far too high that's why I upped your satins."
The last time I'd got my satins prescription I found that the dosage had been doubled. I ask the pharmacist about that. He didn't know why but showed me the prescription with the change. Since I hadn't had a blood test for a while I thought that was unusual but didn't pursue it. I described all this to my doctor. "Ah well you see the readings" he said pointing to his computer screen. "It's clear that the dosage you were on wasn't working so I upped it. There was a note on the prescription explaining it all. It must have dropped off. Are you happy with that?"
He then scrolled down the computer screen to show me the medications I have - "What do you need?" he said." I think it's that one - yes 60gms". "Does it work?" "It's OK" I replied. And he wrote out the prescription.
"It's all this change. I have faxes, e-mails, letters, electronic letters, phone calls they all flood into the surgery. But we don't have enough staff - that's probably why you received the SMS and there's no record on your records. We have meetings you know to discuss these things. I'll raise your difficulties next time. Do you know we have hundreds of phone lines coming into the surgery but only a couple of receptionists. It's all too much."
While he was giving up on the NHS's ability to cope he wrote out a blood test request. "What about your prostate - at your age we do it as a matter of course. Mind you, once you agree to these tests, your life's not your own. If they find the slightest thing amiss the whole machinery kicks in and you're be rushing from pillar to post having this and that test and your life's not your own any more."
I suddenly realised why some of my friends' conversations revolve around visits to hospitals and specialists. Once in the system there is no escape.
I left with a prescription, a blood test form and a complete understanding of why my doctor will have a major nervous breakdown when the Government's latest reforms of the NHS kick in. "It's no good reforming, giving us budgets; but I suppose we've decided that doctors might understand how the health service works. Certainly the bureaucrats don't." With that we parted.
I couldn't help thinking that we patients might make a better fist of it; as I swallowed another batch of tranquillisers.