Doctors, fed up of being treated like priests? Stop acting like them

Robin Walsh

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Topics Politics

It has probably happened to everyone working in healthcare at one time or another. I remember sitting (unpaid!) in a GP surgery seeing patient after patient with colds, each asking for magic cures or time off work while I was suffering with one at least as bad as theirs. You’d be hard pressed to find someone who hasn’t felt frustrated at, or been amused by, some of the more demanding or weird enquiries you field as a healthcare professional.

But according to a recent survey of GPs, such is the nature and number of patient enquiries today that some feel that inappropriate demands are being made of GPs’ time. Patient enquiries collated in the survey range from the amusing – a patient unable to fart without making a noise – to the cheeky – requesting sick notes for time on surreptitious holidays – to the downright weird – being asked to judge who is more beautiful between two sisters.

The survey, shared with glee by doctors on social media, seems a rather negative way to highlight the issue of demands on GPs’ time. Anyone who has ever been to a bike repair shop, for instance, will know how dispiriting it is to experience those you are turning to for advice treating your ignorance with contempt. Some of the patient enquiries, such as a child’s poo turning bright blue (as it turns out, after the consumption of crayons), would seem legitimate grounds to consult a doctor if you weren’t medically trained. Likewise, some others are almost heartbreaking in what they reveal about the atomised state of modern society, such as people requesting relationship or child-rearing advice that they previously would have got from family, friends or priests.

The survey also illustrates the weakening of the social contract and doctor-patient relationship, with increasingly consumerist demands being made by patients and rather pompous demands not to have to bother with such things made by doctors. The laity is not a conspiracy against the profession. It is ironic that, having set themselves up over the past few decades as a moral authority on lifestyle choices far outside of their traditional remit, the medical profession now objects to being treated like secular priests and wants to limit itself to strictly medical matters. If doctors stopped issuing decrees on everything from smoking in cars to climate change, and returned to their core mission of treating the sick, then patients might follow suit.

Robin Walsh is a medical student at the University of Sheffield.

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