Liam Farrell: We can learn a lot from Homer Simpson

There is much we can learn from The Simpsons, and particularly from Homer, who possesses a wisdom borne of having to survive in the real world; that is, if at first you don't succeed, pretend you're sick.

In one episode a travelling salesman persuades the citizens of Springfield to invest in a monorail; the whole thing, of course, turns out to be a scam. The episode was obviously an homage to the fifties musical The Music Man, in which a travelling salesman persuades the townspeople to invest in a full set musical instruments for the local school band (remember the song Seventy-six Trombones?); this was the kind of thing you got to learn at medical school in Dublin.

Now a further homage to The Music Man has been invented by New Labour, still relentlessly selling their spin with no substance. A Polyclinic, a Polyclinic, they chant, what a wonderful idea, everyone will go for it, no one could complain about it, why did we never think of it before, just the ticket to deflect the attention from the mess we are making of everything else.

Who comes up with this stuff? Obviously the same brains trust of con men that came up with health trajectories, foundation hospitals, and health centres of excellence. It makes such common sense, doesn't it? GPs and specialists all cosy under one roof; after seeing the GP, Mrs Magee can nip across the corridor and have her scan, and then, after a juice in the fruit bar and a quick session at the gym, maybe a spot of counselling as well, then pop into the Jacuzzi.

And according to a letter from the health secretary to The Observer (does he ever do anything else), these brilliant polyclinics have been recommended by our very own Lord Darzi. According to the letter, Lord Darzi is an 'eminent' surgeon, and therefore obviously well qualified to oversee dramatic changes in general practice. It's strange, isn't it, how surgeons are always 'eminent', while GPs are always 'ordinary'; OK, let's admit it, no begrudgery, no inverted snobbery, we are ordinary and proud of it.

These wonderful polyclinics, apparently, will also be open seven days each week, eight till eight; if nothing else it will be a good chance for us to get to know the orthopaedic surgeons, as I presume they'll have to hang around like the rest of us, eminent or not.

Dr Farrell is a GP from County Armagh. Email him at

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