Tuesday, 29 July 2008

Going to the doctor

One of the complications of living a mobile life is getting consistent access to medical care. When your body is deteriorating as rapidly has mine has decided to do, reliable medical care and a regular drug supply are a priority, but our medical system (for obvious reasons) is based on a stationary residence basis, with registration with a local GP surgery. This makes perfect sense for the majority of the population, but at present I find myself actually living my life in the far east of the country, while being registered with a wonderful practice in the west of the country! Thus, so that I can see my orthopaedic consultant (about my destroyed right elbow) Jeffery has to take 2 days off work , so that we can spend tomorrow travelling west, and Thursday actually seeing the consultant and then driving back east - it will give us an opportunity to see 2 of our children, and to arrange for my next months' worth of medication to be posted to our current caravan site, as a bonus, but it would be much easier if I could get a repeat prescription from a local surgery!

Having spent my life in a wide range of different places in the UK, I've had quite a few differing medical experiences with my GPs. Some, particularly the more recent ones, have been brilliant, with deeply caring and empathetic doctors who have gone out of their way, and worked extremely hard, to identify and meet my needs - sadly, that hasn't always been the case. Over a large proportion of my life I have suffered from depression, mostly post-natal but none the less lasting for many years. Unfortunately, for most of this period my GPs were unsympathetic men, who saw me as an irritant, a failure and a nuisance, so instead of getting the support that , not just I, but my family, needed. This resulted in the failure of several marriages and a highly insecure childhood for my children.

Doctors have a great deal of power over the everyday lives of their patients, and most of them are highly aware of this and treat this responsibility with the respect it deserves, but the exceptions can cause a level of devastation in the lives of the vulnerable that usually goes unrecognised. I'm not talking about gross malpractice here, that's actually much easier to identify, it's more the rural practice, for instance, where the doctor has been in position for many years and there are few, if any, alternatives. The 'Old Boy Network' is still at work in many such areas, and can result in personal disaster for those who are not part of it, but affected by it - like me! I don't know how this can be addressed, it's far from simple - I hardly think that empathy is something that can be taught and an examination passed! Apparently there is now a system in place for patients to make comments on their GP, but I haven't been invited to take part, so it's obviously something you need to seek out, rather than a system where the GP actually actively seeks out feedback - rather a shame, I think.

The newer output of doctors do seem to be much more aware of this issue, so I have great hope that fewer patients will have their lives left to roll on, into disaster, because their doctor was too arrogant to perceive, and treat appropriately, a serious mental medical condition. I know mental illness is not always easy to identify, let alone treat, but too many cases still slip through the net, the system is far from fail-safe and doctors have the power to prevent an enormous amount of misery if they are only willing to take the time to really listen.

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