Phil Hammond MD

It's odd what you can learn from a nurse at the Pot Noodle counter
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Indy Lifestyle Online
The photo on the left has several aims - to convince you I'm a real doctor (spot the stethoscope, did you?), to demonstrate my fine cheek bones and to be sufficiently anonymous to stop me being accosted in Sainsburys. This week, it failed on all three counts. Supermarket consultations are an occupational hazard for GPs, or at least for the majority who live where they work. This is a torment for all except us media docs who can pack our columns with hysterical stories of public exposure in the aisles. Like the time Mr Raisey bent over the frozen chicken to reveal his friction burn. God, how we all laughed.

Luckily for you, I now live miles from my practice and such dangerous liaisons are a thing of the past, Or so I thought. Last Friday, while doing the Pot Noodle and Pampers run, I was tapped about the torso. "Excuse me. Are you the doctor who writes for the Independent?" Of course, I could have denied it, but I'm much too vain for that. "Spot the cheek bones, eh?" "What? No. It's the glasses." The irony is that I don't actually need glasses. I just chose these warm, empathic tortoise-shell frames because so looks as if I care. Without them, I'm hideous - I look like an extra from Trainspotting - but with them, I look as if I'm trying my best. Also, I've discovered that patients are much less likely to punch you if you're wearing glasses.

"So what do you think of the column?"

"Oh, it's certainly, um, unusual." If these pieces are ever collected for a book (and believe me, I've had offers), then this is a quote for the back flap. "Certainly, um, unusual," said woman at Pot Noodle counter.

"Are you medical?"

"I'm a nurse. Are you medical?"

For a moment, I thought she was taking the piss, but she had that sincere look about her that nurses sport when they're being, well, sincere.

"Of course I am. I'm a doctor."

"Prove it."

What shall it be? My BMA membership card or my Friends of St Thomas's Hospital Heavy Drinkers Badge? I settled for the Pot Noodles. "Look, we're the only two people at the noodle counter. You're here because you're a nurse and you can't afford anything else. I'm here because I'm a GP and I get perverse pleasure out of not taking my own advice." "Really?" "No, not really. They're for my wife - she's breast feeding and she needs the nourishment." "You mention your wife's breast-feeding a lot in your columns." "Yes, well, it's a subtle way of advertising my fertility. You know, like having 'baby on board' stickers for the car." "I think it's sad that you feel you have to do that."

Time for a sharp exit, which was being blocked by Nurse Sad.

"I read that piece you wrote about private medicine." Oh no, she's a hitman for BUPA."You said some NHS hospitals treat children with cancer privately and that they get preferential treatment?" "So?" "I disagree. I'm a paediatric nurse and, where I work, they treat lots of children privately, but I don't think the treatment is better." "Why not?" "Well, we only treat private patients from overseas - children who can't get the treatment they need in their own countries."

"You must have made a fortune out of Yugoslavia."

"We have, even more than from the Gulf War. But most of our private patients have cancer and although the consultants spend a lot of time with them, their English is often very poor so I'm not sure they understand what's happening to them." "Are they treated on the same wards as the NHS patients?"

"Oh no. NHS patients are on specialist wards with specialist staff for their particular illnesses, whereas the private patients are all lumped in the same ward together, irrespective of their illnesses. So although they see more of the consultants, they get less expert care in between."

"Do you check their credit rating before they fly over?"

"They've got to have a certain amount up front. But sometimes the parents are misled as to how much it's all going to cost. If they run out of money, the managers tell us to stop treating them, even if they're half way through a course of chemotherapy."

"And do you?"

"Not if we can hide it. But the parents are even more frightened than the managers of ending up in debt, and some take their children home early or stop bringing them for follow-up. So it's not better treatment at all, you see."

"Thank you for telling me."

"I just thought you should know."

"Enjoy your noodles."

"You too."

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