Letter from Simon Kelner: Medical complaint? The doctor won’t see you now


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The Independent Online

I tried to book an appointment with my hairdresser yesterday. "We're very sorry," came the reply, "but we cannot take your custom any longer. If you have any complaint, please take it to the Hairdressing Ombudsman."

Apparently, I'd given a "hostile", monosyllabic answer to the inquiry about whether I had a busy day ahead of me. I then found I'd been struck off by my local restaurant after I'd complained that my pasta was not quite al dente. "Please find another Italian restaurant," I was told. I was then sent a list of trattorias within a 10-mile radius. Just imagine if life were like that.

If, for instance, your local GP could decide he didn't like the cut of your jib and refused to treat you. Oh, hold on a minute, they're already doing that. Yesterday's news of a six per cent rise in patients complaining they had been removed from GPs' lists was a shocking indication of how far the balance has swung in this particular area of health treatment from consumer to provider.

Way back in 1987, the British Medical Journal published a treatise on what makes a good GP, and this is still regarded as a set text in this area. It began with a simple assertion: "The good GP will treat patients both as people and as a population."

This means that, as well as individual diagnosis and treatment, the family doctor also has a responsibility to the wider community, promoting good health through preventative measures. We seem to have come a long way from that, and not necessarily in the right direction. Under the Government's health reforms, GPs are soon to have much more power, and will have to act as entrepreneurs as well as health professionals. Perhaps then, when it's business we're talking about, they might be more likely to adopt a "customer is always right" approach.

In one area, however, I have great sympathy with doctors. In the past, you'd give them the symptoms, they'd tell you what was wrong with you, prescribe some drugs, and you'd be on your way. Now, in the age of Dr Google, we challenge everything we're told.

"According to a recent study in America," we'll say, "this particular treatment is no longer regarded as the most effective." Doctors must hear that sort of thing all the time, and it surely drives them mad. Their word used to be law: now it is contested because of something we've just read on the internet.

We have gone from an age of deference to an age of reference. No wonder they're getting rid of the more troublesome among us. Let's just hope this doesn't catch on: I can't face being sacked by my gardener!