“Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt has vowed to root out doctors who cost patients’ lives by failing to send them for vital hospital tests soon enough.”
Would it not be more productive to praise those Doctors who achieve the near impossibility of looking at the outside of a patient sitting in their surgery complaining that she is ‘tired all the time’ and correctly deduce that she may well have cancer and send her to the local oncology specialist in time to save her life?
‘Tired all the time’ is the number one complaint heard in Doctor’s surgeries. True, people with one of the 200 different types of cancer do complain that they are ‘tired all the time’. So do people who stay up til 3am watching porn movies; as do people who are holding down three different jobs whilst trying to save the deposit for a house; as do women with three children under the age of four to look after; as do people with a host of other ailments nowhere near as serious as cancer.
There are a shade under 64,000 GPs in the UK, and around 300,000 new cases of cancer every year. So, on average, every Doctor is going to see 5 cases spread amongst 200 different types of cancer each year within his ‘quota’ of 1,500 patients. Is he supposed to send every single patient who complains of ‘feeling tired’ to join the queue for a scan for fear that one of them may be harbouring a cancer which will see him named and shamed as an ‘inefficient and uncaring’ Doctor? How long will the queue for the scanner be then?
The media have been quick to find grieving relatives who support the initiative to ‘name and shame’. Mrs O’ Reilly went to her GP complaining of ‘back pain’. As do thousands of patients every year. Should he have sent her, indeed, all of them, to the oncologist or the local physiotherapist? He sent her to the physiotherapist – a sensible option given the reason for most back pain. Only when the physiotherapist returned her to the Doctor saying the problem was ‘not muscular’ in his expert opinion, did he send her to the oncologist. Sadly, she was one of the ‘average five’ patients of his who did have cancer – which had spread, and she died. Her son is naturally upset at losing his Mother – and backing the call to see this Doctor labelled as ‘dangerous’. It is not only the queue for the scanner which will lengthen if this initiative is put into practice – but the queue for GPs – as thousands of patients veer away from GPs labelled ‘dangerous’.
Mr G drove me to Toulouse yesterday, to have lunch with a very special lady. She and I are unusual creatures; we both have a rare cancer in itself, and of the womb – and neither of us have a womb. In my case, for the past 40 years, in hers, for the past six years. What is a GP supposed to do with us, should either of us have presented at a UK surgery saying we were ‘tired’ – the sole symptom that either of us could lay claim to – and that only with hindsight? It was sheer chance, and exemplary diagnostic work, that led to either of us having treatment for something that could neither be seen, nor heard. Doesn’t that deserve praise to the GPs concerned, rather than condemnation of any of the thousands of other GPs, for whom cancer of the womb in a patient that they knew perfectly well didn’t have a womb, might have failed to send us to an oncologist?
She, like me, is also English, and to my surprise, for her French is superb, had decided that following surgery, she couldn’t face going through chemotherapy with the added hurdle of doing everything in a foreign language. When you are at your lowest ebb, having to check through every sentence for the correct verb declination and noun usage, does add a certain je ne sais quoi as they say in these parts, to the stress levels.
She went straight to The Royal Marsden hospital; no hold ups, no problems with a GP, the creme de la creme of cancer treatment in the UK – and you could say ‘they got it wrong’. She didn’t have the same ‘high density’ treatment I had in France, and now she is back here, hoping against hope that the French will agree to try her on the same treatment. She is 25 years younger than me, with a 12 year old son – yet the Marsden would only give her palliative treatment on the grounds that Leiomyosarcoma is ‘incurable’ and there was no point in wasting resources on staving off the inevitable. Should the Royal Marsden be labelled a ‘dangerous’ hospital for having ‘failed’ her so far? I don’t think so. Should the money be available to take the French attitude and at least try to save every life, and in the process, perhaps, perhaps, discover a course of treatment that might help others ? Yes!
There seems to be an idea afoot that cancer is like measles, you should be able to spot the signs easily and apply the correct medication. It isn’t. There are over 200 different cancers, that occur in people of both sexes and in between, in a variety of sites, in people with all sorts of different underlying conditions, and which are diagnosed at varying stages. That half of all people who develop cancer now survive for at least ten years – a figure which has doubled in the UK over the past 40 years, is nothing short of miraculous.
Of course there is room for improvement, there is always room for improvement; not spending NHS resources tracking down all the staff who worked in the Maudsley hospital 30 years ago because some idiot phoned up Operation Yewtree to say he ‘thought’ he saw Jimmy Savile walking across their car park in 1980 would be a very good start.
The NHS has become a hugely political organisation, at the forefront of political correctness – the billions that are poured into it every year could ensure sufficient scanners to allow every GP to send every patient for a scan on the off-chance that they have cancer if that is what you think they should be doing, but to ‘name and shame’ the Doctors for not having done so is not productive.
There is a school of thought that says we have a ‘right’ to life – and if we lose our life, it must be ‘someone’s fault’. More than 40% of cancers are due to ‘sub-optimal lifestyles‘. In other words – how we chose to live.
Yet the only finger we are prepared to point is at the GP? Try pointing the finger at the NHS for wasting resources.