Liam Farrell: Treasure those complaints from your patients

Complaints are precious, I read somewhere; we should hoard them like jewels, for only through complaints do we realise how our services are deficient and how to correct the deficiency.

Compliments, by contrast, are dangerous, because they are less likely to be true than complaints, encourage complacency, and may be manipulative.

Well, blow that for a game of soldiers, I say.

We put up a complaints box and all we got was a scrawl of obscene graffiti implying that my partner had a big butt (and there's nothing we can do about that, he's stuck with it).

'Before I start,' the patient said, 'I would like to say how much I admire your achievements.'

'Thanks,' I said.

'Not yours in particular, I mean,' he continued. 'The whole scientific medical thing.'

'On behalf of the whole medical community,' I said, 'I accept your thanks, it really means a lot to us that you recognise the sacrifices of Galileo, the brilliance of Pasteur, the perspicacity of Fleming, the way in which knowledge has been gleaned, often in the face of persecution and superstition. I'll organise a press release for the BBC. It makes such a fuss about the Nobel Prize, but this is much more important and gratifying.'

'However,' he said. 'There is one thing that I'm not happy about.'

'Contrary to expectations,' I said, 'my job is not to make you happy. Happiness is ephemeral, way beyond my humble remit.'

'The waiting room is not restful and relaxing,' he said. 'The chairs are uncomfortable, there's no TV or wi-fi and the magazines are all gossipy tabloids. Why don't you have The Economist?'

'Oooh,' I said, rather impressed.

'The posters on the walls are out of date,' he said. 'And the walls are painted a nauseating greenish colour.'

'You may be under a misapprehension,' I explained. 'The waiting room is not supposed to be a garden of delights, it's for waiting. You may also have noticed the absence of lace cloths and wine-buckets; this ain't no whorehouse parlour, buddy.'

'You aren't taking me seriously,' he said. 'Can I see another doctor?'

'Of course,' I said, always ready to help. 'Just take a seat in the waiting room.'

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