Health: Stitch me up, nurse
Jeremy Laurance is a writer on health issues. He is former health editor of The Independent and the i and has covered the specialism for more than 20 years. He thinks the harm medicine does is under-appreciated, the harm it prevents over-rated, and that cycling works better than most drugs. He was named Specialist Journalist of the Year in the 2011 British Press Awards.
Thursday 25 November 1999
The most striking change in that time - to my semi-professional eye - was the growth of defensive medicine. I was overwhelmed by the generosity of the NHS.
At the reception desk three people busied themselves with filing, tapping at their computers and making telephone calls. I waited, ignored. Eventually I was offered an X-ray to check for glass fragments, a local anaesthetic, antibiotics and painkillers. I turned them all down and said, trying not to sound ungrateful, that if they could just stitch me up, that would be fine.
One of the nurses congratulated me. "Well done for saving the NHS money," she said.
My motives were in fact entirely selfish. I refused the X-ray because I thought it would keep me waiting twice as long. I guessed the anaesthetic would cause as much pain as it would save. Antibiotics make me feel rotten, and anyhow we shouldn't be adding to the global antibiotic soup in which we are all now bathed. And I turned down the painkillers because I was not in pain.
I wonder how much I saved. Multiplied several million times, those four items add up to a lot of cash for an uncertain health gain. So why not, instead of ordering these measures for every patient, promise that every X-ray refused, every antibiotic saved, will go towards a Christmas bonus for casualty receptionists who muster a sympathetic smile?
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