Zara Aziz: Why politicians ought to shadow GPs

The problem with the NHS is that we only look at things through our own binoculars. This is a rather childlike view, but something we persist in maintaining at all costs.

It was late on Friday and the conversation was going badly. He was not budging and neither was I. My patient was in retention and squirming away on the couch, with his wife periodically rubbing off his sweat with paper towels. The urology reg was refusing to accept him and suggesting I catheterise him there and then.

'Look, I haven't got any catheters at all in the building. I can't get hold of the district nurses at this time and A&E is going to be near impossible to be seen in. Why don't you see him? He is under urology anyway.' I was trying to reason with him.

'Why don't you have any catheters? It's a basic thing to stock,' he replied. We were going round in circles. 'Look,' I said, 'I need to resolve this. Either you accept him or he goes to A&E.'

There was a very long pause.

'OK, I'll take him,' he finally said. 'But one more thing, what's his serum calcium?'

'Excuse me?' I asked, confused.

'Only joking,' he laughed, but at least he had taken my patient. After all, he doesn't know what it's like being a GP, I thought, forgivingly.

I applaud Cheshire GPs' plans to arrange consultant-GP swaps within their localities and would certainly volunteer for this if it were to be rolled out nationally (although I would prefer not to pick urology if I can possibly help it).

In fact, I would go one step further - the job description of all of the health ministers and health secretaries should include time spent shadowing staff in the community and in hospitals.

None of this orchestrated hour or two spent with sleeves rolled up, nodding intently on the wards while on the campaign trail. We should have hands-on work with GPs, doing 12-hour days of work that never seems to end. Or how about shadowing a support worker for the mentally ill or a carer looking after patients with dementia?

I wonder whether that would have any effect on the politicians' half-baked diktats, which seem to appear from on high as regularly as clockwork.

  • Dr Aziz is a GP partner in north-east Bristol

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