Charles Nevin: Doctors should try a bit of entertainment


An important element of the columnist's work is the ability to take the temperature, make a diagnosis, and suggest the cure. And, since some of you might well be reading this in the surgery, I was wondering if you had noticed that the medical profession is suffering from a bout of what we journalists call "bad publicity".

That's right. Normally, I would break it more gently, but believing it to be apt to follow the profession's own custom and practice, I'm going to give it to you straight: docs, people are saying you are arrogant and greedy bastards. There's Gerry Robinson, who has been discovering infinitely condescending consultants treating the NHS in the manner I thought they reserved for their patients; and then there are the GPs, under fire from no less distinguished a source than this newspaper for their £118,000-a-year salaries and fingers-off-the-pulse weekends.

The consultants are a particularly interesting case. In the last 50 years, deference has been in retreat everywhere; it has been entirely eradicated in whole areas, starting with royalty and ending with parents, by way of teachers, politicians, police and the clergy.

Quite right, too: deference has to be earned, not bestowed by right on a generality. And yet the higher doctoring classes have remained immune. It is, I think, to do with their position as keepers of the mysteries of life and death. If it didn't sound as pompous as the non-Independent-reading ones, I'd say it was shamanic.

And then there is that continuing popular role model, gruff but golden-hearted, as displayed by the line beginning with James Robertson Justice as Sir Lancelot Spratt and currently practised by the bloke with the pipe in The Royal.

And I can see, too - and am aware from a close study of ER - that the gruff thing helps hold off the excess of sympathy and involvement that would make the job impossible. But why not have a go at pretending to be sympathetic? Surely that cannot be beyond people who sought to impress Gerry Robinson with the size of their degrees?

The GPs are different. Few of them have, or have had, the inclination or time for the pompousness. Up until now, they have been widely admired for their dedication. But that's changed since they became less accessible and 63 per cent richer. So they must change, too, or, before they can say "don't worry it's just something going round", they'll be viewed like - sit down and take a deep breath for me - lawyers.

My solution would be to follow the example of the calling where astronomical earnings seem to cause little resentment: entertainment. Provide a little extra of that, and the smiles will be back. A burst of song when the patient enters (Peggy Lee's "Fever", for instance, or, possibly, "The First Cut is the Deepest") accompanied by a touch of tap; and perhaps some conjuring tricks ("you'll never guess where I'm going to make the thermometer appear now").

Or, bearing in mind that laughter is the best medicine, a joke. An excellent ice-breaker, which might also indicate to the consultants the more subtle approach I'm advocating, involves a doctor phoning a patient: "I've got some bad news, and some very bad news. The bad news is that the lab called with your results, and you've got 24 hours to live. The very bad news is that I tried to get you yesterday".

Sheep are setting the baa higher

Congratulations to David Hempleman-Adams, 50, the intrepid Briton who has set a new world hot air balloon altitude record (6.1 miles), and to George Hood, 49, the intrepid American who has set a new world record for pedalling a stationary bicycle (85 hours).

However, to avoid any accusations of species triumphalism, I should point out that wild goats living near Lynton in Devon have now learnt to tiptoe through a cattlegrid, thus setting the baa that bit higher for the Yorkshire sheep who roll over theirs.

* In Japan, meanwhile, crows are placing walnuts on pelican crossings and returning to retrieve the now-crushed delicacies when the lights turn red again.

Not bad, particularly when you consider that two men who broke into a police station in North Carolina have just been arrested after leaving a trail of cake crumbs.

Next Monday, I note, is supposed to be the most depressing day of the year, thanks to post-Christmas debt, blues and the weather.

Every Monday, I also note, is supposed to be the most depressing day of the week - most suicides, heart attacks, car breakdowns, and absentees. Stand by, then, for my 11 Reasons to be Cheerful this Fine Monday.

1. We don't have to worry about Becks's future. 2. Today is the 248th anniversary of the opening of the British Museum. 3. It's a week until next Monday. 4. It's not too hot. 5. You're not John Reid. 6. You are? Hmmm. Well, at least this isn't that briefing paper you left under the chair. 7. You can catch Finnish jazz quintet Ilmiliekki on Radio 3 tonight. 8. This year you can pay to get into the Royal Enclosure at Ascot. 9. Sir Norman Wisdom is returning to the silver screen. 10. His part is a minute long. 11. Thames Water might be about to lift the hosepipe ban. Now go, go!

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