Liam Farrell: The rise of the new healthcare experts

I'm a great supporter of the concept of expert patients - patients taking responsibility for their own health by understanding and managing their conditions, and also fulfilling a wider role, informing research and management. But there is a Dark Side.

The proliferation of medicine-related occupations continues at a furious pace. Patient advocates, expert patients, doulas, navigators, care co-ordinators - the healthcare jungle is full of predators, tasting blood in the water, and sensing an opportunity because GPs and nurses have all their time taken up by paperwork and the worried well.

Like the road to hell, it starts with honourable intentions, but that’s just a fifth column. First a few weekend courses, then a diploma (by correspondence), then a degree course, a tutor here, a lecturer there, until finally, bless the day, the first professor, with faculties, lustrous peacock robes, academic processions, the whole shebang, a furrow ploughed by GPs not that long ago.

A few emeritus chairs, sponsored by whoever is making a fast buck out of the new profession (strictly non-promotional, of course), will keep up the momentum until the Royal College gestates, complete with members and even fellows (for only a small increment on top of the annual levy).

Someone will then make the very understandable point that, hey, you can’t pay a mortgage and school fees on this wage, and, hey, what about the defence premiums? Forget all that trite rubbish about caring being a vocation, we need to be recognised as the highly-trained professionals we are; it’s not about the money, of course, it’s about being valued.

Of course, you can’t expect such highly-trained professionals to actually be hands-on, and anyway it will be too expensive. A whole new tier of low-paid ‘auxiliary’ doulas, navigators etc will have to be established, and these will certainly prove to be attractive jobs for our immigrant population, if the Brexit from Brexit doesn’t work and there are any left.

Ordinary doctors and nurses will be reminded of their limitations; they have no qualifications, and, most importantly, they aren’t insured. What would doctors know about advocating for their patients?

‘I read that every patient is an expert in their own illness,’ said Joe, ‘so I’d like to be considered an expert patient.’

‘To paraphrase Michael Gove,’ I said, ‘The British people are tired of listening to expert patients.’

  • Dr Farrell is a GP from County Armagh. Follow him on Twitter @drlfarrell

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