Susan Dalgety: We should question the SNP on health, not GPs

I am sure Scotland's Chief Medical Officer meant well when she urged us last week to move away from our 'doctor knows best' mentality.

Tuesday, 24th April 2018, 6:00 am
Susan Dalgety found herself on the receiving end of GP rage on her last trip to the surgery

Dr Catherine Calderwood even suggested five questions we should ask our GPs, ranging from “are there simpler or safer alternatives to what you are suggesting?” to the even more pointed, “is this procedure really needed?”

Something tells me Dr Calderwood has been self-diagnosing a lot recently, because I can’t think of a single GP I have consulted who would welcome me querying their hard-won clinical wisdom.

That is when you eventually get to see one, but more of that later.

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The last GP I saw face to face was in such a bad mood that he almost shouted me out of his surgery.

He railed at me for not checking my blood pressure regularly with a monitor from Boots, ignoring my desperate pleas that I had been terrified of the procedure since I had life-threatening pre-eclampsia 30-odd years ago.

He told me I was wrong when I said my bloodshot eye had been caused by sand whipped up by a gale along Fisherrrow Harbour, insisting it was a sign of acute hypertension. It wasn’t.

He was so angry with me he could barely bring himself to key in a repeat prescription for my blood pressure medication before throwing me out on my ear.

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If I had dared to ask him even one of Dr Calderwood’s five questions, I think he may have strangled me with his stethoscope.

Little wonder, then, that I tend to consult Dr Google every time I have a peculiar symptom, much to my husband’s chagrin.

Dr Google doesn’t mind me asking if there is an alternative treatment to antibiotics for my self-diagnosed urine infection, or if my sore head really is a brain tumour.

And Dr Google usually reassures me that, while I may feel pretty ropey, it is likely the bottle of Pinot Noir I drank last night that is making me feel hellish rather than impending death.

I know that as I get older, and bits start to fall off, I will probably need to venture into my GP’s surgery more often, but until then I am happy with an annual blood test from a cheery practice nurse, and a phone consultation with a GP only when absolutely necessary.

Which is just as well, as I am a patient in one of Lothians’ biggest GP practices where phone consultations are standard practice.

Indeed, until my practice merged with the one next door, it was almost impossible to get to speak to a GP, never mind ask her the Chief Medical Officer’s five questions.

The crisis was caused by a failure to recruit enough experienced GPs to run the practice, forcing the East Lothian Health and Social Care Partnership to take it over for a spell, before it merged with its neighbouring practice a few months ago.

And it’s not just Musselburgh that is facing a primary care nightmare.

A recent report exposed that there are 99 GP practices across Scotland which have been forced to impose restrictions on new patients, and more than half of them – 51 – are in the Lothians.

We are facing a primary care catastrophe, with a growing number of GPs leaving the NHS through early retirement or joining lucrative private practices.

Many prefer to work part-time so that they can enjoy a balanced home and work life, and fewer newly qualified doctors want to join general practice, preferring the cut and thrust of hospitals.

This has led the Royal College of Practitioners to forecast a shortage of 856 GPs by 2021 – only three years away.

Perhaps Dr Calderwood’s time would be better spent asking the Health Secretary Shona Robison one straightforward question, rather than dreaming up five for patients.

May I suggest something like this: “What are your government’s short and long-term plans to meet the crisis in primary care caused by the well-documented shortage of GPs?”

We would all love to hear Ms Robison’s answer.