Liam Farrell: A problem shared is less responsibility

In Dublin, when I was a lad, nearly all deliveries were done in one of the three large maternity hospitals, which were exclusively for obstetrics with a bit of gynae thrown in just for show.

Each hospital was presided over by what was quaintly called 'The Master', a senior doctor whose reign lasted seven years. I know it sounds rather feudal, but it worked well.

During my time in the National Maternity Hospital (NMH) I covered both neonates and obstetrics, and I must admit, against the usual snarling and bitter tone of this column, I have happy memories. We worked hard, but we were treated well; the food was excellent, the residence comfortable.

Postnatal clinics, in this kind of high-output hospital, were like assembly lines. Any interruption of prolongation was a disaster, as the queue behind would immediately start to back up, maybe spill out onto the street, possibly start a riot and then someone would call the pigs.

I was processing one lady when she asked me to look at her baby's nappy rash. In the NMH we had a policy for everything, including nappy rashes, and it would have taken only a few seconds to treat. But time was precious, and as with junior doctors all across the world and from time immemorial, a problem bounced is a problem solved.

'Better take baby to the baby clinic,' I advised mother, 'It's just down the corridor, they're experts at this kind of thing, top specialists, they've seen thousands, millions of nappy rashes, trust me, they're incredible, they'll know exactly what to do.'

She seemed happy at the prospect of such excellence, so I finished the clinic with satisfied efficiency and retired for a coffee and a bun, the bigger and stickier the better.

But as cup met lip I got a call; the baby clinic was backed up, could I lend a hand?

As I am an obliging chap and was aware that brownie points were vital for a good reference, I went along at once, sat down behind my desk and called in my first patient who was, wouldn't you know, the lady I had referred only a few minutes before.

She looked askance at the 'expert', but I didn't get to where I am today by lack of deceitfulness.

'I believe my twin brother has sent you over,' I said.

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

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