A letter to a GP, two stories of bureaucratic nightmare, and a petition to come

An NHS Property Services building

Dear Doctor,

Will you please stop sending me texts with links to take up appointments for random routine tests. Yes of course I’m *that* age, yes of course I worry that I might get this or that problem but a) I have told you I don’t have a Smartphone so can’t click your links and b) my partner is ill *now*, and you are not finding time for him. You appear to be prioritizing ‘target’ testing over patients in danger. Is that the easy money option? How would I know, if you don’t tell us.

I see him, running up the phone bill, standing there trying to get hold of you because his consultant has told him to go to his GP for this or that vital medication. I see him put the phone down, stressed and anxious, imagine his heart rate going up into the danger-zone *again* because five minutes into the telethon competition for today’s appointments, you have allocated all the appointments you’re willing to give.

Please either employ more staff and deal with the patients you have who need you *now*, or get you down to the council or the press and yell about what is stopping you. This is unbearable and unacceptable.

Yours in exasperation,

Kay Green

(I won’t name the GP at this point because I daresay yours is every bit as bad as mine is.)


We have a stupendously good team of experts in our NHS. The range and quantity of craft and knowledge in that workforce has probably never had an equal in the history of human civilization. We have some stunningly clever technology which makes it possible for the NHS to either cure or mitigate a breath-taking range of illnesses and difficulties.

Unfortunately, we also have a system in an advanced stage of bureaucratic disintegration. If this was happening by accident, it would be easy enough to get a team of experienced system analysts and designers on the case and fix it – but we appear to have a government that is determined to further fragment the service, closing their eyes to the struggles of the workers and the sufferings of service-users along the way.

Chomsky quote: That's the standard technique of provatization: defund, make sure things don't work, people get angry, you hand it over to private capital.

Two stories that illustrate the situation…

1. Himself and me make a mistake

It was a small mistake – mixing up one appointment we had made with another we were supposed to have made. It was the one we were supposed to have made that would have got him his very-important prescription to cover the long weekend created by his GP deciding to take an unexpected Monday off to watch the Queen’s funeral. Appointments for the Saturday and the Sunday were already filled, and the GP’s receptionist could not do anything as the GP had already gone on his way on the Friday afternoon when I presented with the problem.

The hospital had told him he must have the pills. He could not get a prescription until a doctor had okay-ed it. We could not get the attention of a doctor. There followed three days of me running from pharmacy to pharmacy, us driving to the hospital (twice) and walking to the surgery and then the walk-in health service, thwarted at every turn. All amidst long hangings on the phone (about £6worth) and increasing anxiety about just what would happen if himself ran out of pills, given the seriousness of his condition.

It all worked out eventually but the stress, the wasted time (ten minutes each of worry for the pharmacist who took our problem seriously and the receptionist who tried to think of a solution for us, three daysworth for us) and the horrendous risk!

2. A worker at Trumpton Hospital makes a mistake

(I changed the name of the hospital – I know the workers can’t help it)

She phoned me and I answered the phone…

She said you know that eye appointment you had? And I said yes, and she said the results came back and everything’s fine, no need for further treatment and I said thanks and she said, only thing is, I got confused and sent you a letter with a follow-up appointment that actually you don’t need, so could you just bin the letter when it arrives? And I said yes, and she said thanks, and we said bye!

Two minutes work, no stress for me and, as far as I could tell, none for her. But when we users make mistakes — or even when we don’t…

Users and workers

Users can’t help it – everyone makes mistakes but when we do, it causes days of stress and misery. We also often suffer when someone in the system makes mistakes.

Workers can’t help it – everyone makes mistakes but when they phone us, we generally answer – we don’t have overloaded call-stacking systems. When they ask us to do something, we know they’ve asked and we can generally carry it through, because our homes and our lives aren’t gargantuan bureaucratic systems.

The stress, the danger and the expense are all on the service users and front-line workers. Our government knows this, if and when they bother to look; professionals making their fortune within the NHS know it, if and when they dare to look.

Either they never look, or they don’t care; or maybe they want us to learn to hate the NHS. Most GPs have never given credence to the idea of becoming truly a part of our NHS. Selfish, or pragmatic? You decide which but in the meantime, a friend and I are putting together material for a petition. Do please tell us your stories about attempting to use our NHS, so we can add them into the tale (comments box below, contact form here) and please look out for that petition when we get it online.


Dear Reader,

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