Thursday 16th November 1989   Morning coffee break 12.10

“Just pop in and ask your doctor?” My Dad looked puzzled and annoyed.

“Yes, Desmond, it’s a new government scheme.” Our practice manager, Mrs Andrea Jones, was reading a large, glossy brochure. “The idea is to encourage patients to come in and discuss any little worries they have. It can be the most trivial question or the tiniest concern. I suppose it’s for things that they would not usually dream of making an appointment for.”

My Dad look less puzzled and more annoyed.

“Here, they’ve got some real examples. Mrs Joan Charles had been suffering from intermittent pins and needles affecting the tip of her left little finger. She wondered if this might be the first sign of multiple sclerosis.”
“Probably not.” Dr Lois Lewis looked up from signing the prescriptions.
“I’ll read another,” Andrea continued. Three weeks ago, Mr Jack Bradbury had suffered from a morning of quite nasty diarrhoea. He had initially put this down to something he had eaten but wanted to know if it could have been one of his tablets.”
“Do we know what tablets he was on?”
“No, I’m sorry, Dr Lewis, they don’t mention that. Anyway, participating practices would be expected to make a senior doctor, that’s you Desmond, available for an hour every day. Patients don’t need an appointment: they just pop in. They suggest running the service over the lunch break to avoid interfering with normal surgeries. Of course, the scheme would attract extra remuneration: that goes without saying.”

No one spoke. Andrea continued to look through the brochure. My Dad kept taking small sips of his coffee. He does that when he is trying to work out whether the milk is sour.

“Mmm . . . listen to this . . the scheme has been successfully piloted by doctors in Oxford and Cambridge . . .” Andrea smiled dreamily. Dr Lewis looked up again with a similar expression. They both appeared very impressed by the thought of doctors in Oxford and Cambridge. “Patients are extremely satisfied with the new service,” she continued. “Little Middleton resident, Mrs Vera Vaughan, who has used it every day has only the highest praise. It has also reduced the demand for routine appointments by a third. That’s fantastic, Desmond.”

My Dad got up, marched across the staff room, tipped his coffee down the sink, dropped his cup into the bowl and left.

Just pop in and ask your doctor.