Thursday, 24 October 2013

New man at the helm

There are many people who work in the NHS who are quite clear about the Government's agenda for the NHS, and are not fooled by he apparent muddle of policies that have been proposed, which largely seem a smokescreen.

The agenda has been much the same within the Department of Health since 1990, and has been followed by successive Governments in order, ultimately, to get rid of their responsibility for healthcare in the UK by a slow process of privatisation.

Margaret Thatcher started it, John Major and Tony Blair continued it, and we are now approaching the final denouement.

The return of Simon Stevens, former senior executive of UnitedHealth Europe and special adviser to Tony Blair is the latest example of how an obvious appointment has been given the spin treatment, and the media and many commentators have fallen for it.

The NHS is turning into a mighty mess. Much of the additional funds that could have modernised and made the service fit for purpose in a first world country have been squandered on reorganisations, institutional paralysis and transaction costs of a market model for health care which simply does not work. Does anyone feel that the market model for energy, water and railways has worked to the advantage of the ordinary member of the public or the average worker in these industries? If so take a long hard look at your utility and travel bills.

Simon Stevens is a clever man. He does, however, work for the private health care industry. He will now be at the helm when the NHS is starting to be parcelled out to the private sector, and I cannot accept that he won't see the whole process continue to support the private health industry.

It is a bad day for the ordinary man. Neil Kinnock said famously that he warned people not to get ill or old. We all thought that was typical welsh oratory: it turns out to be scarily true.

Goodbye NHS.

Monday, 21 October 2013

Open letter to Steve Field, inspector designate of General Practice

Dear Steve,

May I congratulate you on your new post of Chief Inspector of General Practice. You are certainly well qualified for the post, having been a GP, a Course Organiser, a Regional Director of GP Education, Chair of Council of the Royal College of GPs, and Chair of the Future Forum. You have also been made a Professor, and have received awards from the Government for your work. A stellar career, for sure.

Meanwhile, I stayed a course organiser and a full-time GP.

We now see things from different perspectives.

The NHS is lurching towards a crisis. All those who are working at the front-line state that the service is hugely overstretched, and nearing crisis point. I'm sure that you have received this message from many front-line workers. The Government's solution is to marketise the system, seek cuts to be made (variously called the 'Nicholson challenge' or 'efficiency savings') . As the Chief Inspector of General Practice - a new post - you will be able to see this first hand.

The profession is as demoralised as I have ever known it. The causes for this are complex, but are based around a number of factors: firstly, the constant and vindictive sniping from aspects of the media, and also the Department of Health; secondly, increasing control from the centre through perfomance-related pay initiatives and revalidation of doctors by the generally dysfunctional GMC; thirdly the lack of investment in General Practice; fourthly, the seeming impossibility of those in power to listen to anyone at the front-line (except a few hard-line supporters in leafy shires); fifthly, the increasing demands on the service from demographic changes, as well as increased general demand. I could go on (and some of my colleagues will point to areas in this list that I have not mentioned).

There are very few people with the power and influence to affect the way in which Government policy since 1990 has been leading us to this point. The NHS was the unique selling point of this country, and in England it is being destroyed at a rapid rate. We wish to save it if we can, and you are one of the people that Government listen to.

You can achieve a lot by focussing on the role that you want, rather than the brief you have been given. Inspection should be a neutral process, and should have people doing it who are fiercely independent and are willing to point out mistakes, not only in front-line services, but how policy has caused this.

There are two role models you can follow. The first is Chris Woodhead, the second is Stephen Tumim. They were both chief inspectors - one of Ofsted and one of Prisons.

Chris Woodhead was a zealous promulgator of Government policy, and was more extreme than most of the politicians he reported to. He was, in my view, overpromoted because he was willing to do the Government's dirty work, and say things that ministers were thinking, allowing them to distance themselves from the more bizarre elements of right-wing policy. He was loathed by teachers as a hatchet man.

Stephen Tumim inspected prisons and told Governments not only what the service could do to improve the system, but also castigated Government for decisions that made it more difficult to run the service. He was independent, widely-respected and a force for good in the system.

So, Steve, I want you to ask yourself if you will follow the Woodhead model or the Tumim model? The way your colleagues see you will be directly affected by what you make of this.  You have an opportunity to make a big difference.

Can you do it?

Kind Regards,


Saturday, 28 September 2013

Always something to discover....

What is it?
I would have described myself as a pretty experienced GP, and certainly 33 years in a full-time job would prepare you for anything, and I have seen pretty much every condition in my time, including a lot of rare ones.

I have seen and diagnosed Wegener's granulomatosis, and Hayley-Hayley disease, I have seen all the rare childhood cancers including Wilms' tumour, so I wasn't expecting to be surprised by a condition I had not heard of.

Since retiring, I have started to do quite a bit of walking. It is hard work when you have the physique of a prop forward, and the weight to match (and a bit extra for the added pies), but I am persevering. This means that I am meeting with people who walk, and have come across a condition that is new to me: Golfer's Vasculitis. This is an irritating purpuric rash that occurs in people after they have walked for a while. It seems more common in older people, and in women. It occurs after longer walks, and not in runners.

It is entirely benign, and is diagnosed on the history and examination (tests aren't necessary provided the walker is well), but is a little unsightly, and takes a few days to subside.

You can take the doctor out of medical practice, but can't stop a doctor thinking and analysing like a doctor!

Saturday, 24 August 2013

Travels if France - Poitou

Friday 23rd August

Chateau d'Eveques
Another travelling day, when we made a slow and enjoyable trip south of Poitiers towards our next stop East of Limoges. We started by visiting the ancient medieval city of Chauvigny, and wandered around the citadel looking at ruins, churches and the like.

There was a rather striking ruined chateau called the Chateau d’Eveques (of bishops) but it was getting very hot so we curtailed the walking around. 

The afternoon took in St Dorat, and we were surprised at the number of British people in quite a small, out of the way place. Lovely old church, mind.

Travels in France - Poitou

Thursday 22nd August

Old town in Poitiers
Today we visit the main city in the Poitou. Poitiers has a resonance being the site of two battles, one a victory for the Franks in the 8th Century, and the other a decisive conflict in the 100 years war in 1356, won by the English. Funnily enough, only one battle is mentioned in the tourist information.

Cathedrale St Pierre
Poitiers is a smallish city, considering its strategic importance and its role as the one-time capital of France, and that is its strong point. Three routes were neatly laid out in coloured paints, and we did two of them, one to the old town (route jaune) and one to the cathedral of St Pierre (route bleu). Each walk was around a mile long which was plenty. There were some lovely old buildings, but we were unfortunate to arrive at the ancient Baptistery de St Jean just into the French lunch hour.

The facade of the Cathedral of St Pierre was pretty amazing and we enjoyed looking at all the little figures painstakingly carved in the stone of the Portico.

Frescoes on ceiling of the Abbey
In the afternoon we went off to see the frescoes in the Abbey of St Savin, which was around 30 miles due East of Poitiers. They depicted scenes from the bible including the stories from the first 5 books of the bible. It was interesting, although the exhibition was only in French, which made it hard work to translate. That was enough for one day and we returned to the Chateau for a lovely evening meal.

Travels in France - Loire valley

Travelling again, but at quite a leisurely pace. We called into Saumur and had a look around, including the old town. The Eglise St Pierre was closed for major works, and as we had seen 2 Chateaux yesterday, we decided that a beer was better. So we pootled off to Chinon for a beer, and a light lunch (assiette de charcuterie for me)and a trip to the Hypermarche for some wine. Then we had a short stop in Loudun, prior to arriving late afternoon at the Chateau du Boise Doucette. It is lovely and relaxing and very quiet. It is around 7 miles from Poitiers.
Sunflowers galore!

Madame is very talkative, but speaks French in a Poitevin accent, that makes Biere sound like Pierre. Talking only french is hard enough without this - I suppose it is like understanding a geordie accent in England. 

The sunflowers are amazing outside. Indeed there seem to be only two regular crops in the Poitou - sunflowers and Maize.

Tuesday, 20 August 2013

Travels in France - Loire Valley


Chateau de Chenonceau.
When in the Loire valley you have to visit  a chateau, and so we chose the Chateau de Chenonceau, around 10 miles south of Amboise. This lovely chateau that straddles the river Cher is steeped in history - Catherine de Medici, Diane of Poitiers, Louise of Lorraine,  Charles VIII of Frances, Francis 1st of France, and even up to the second world war when Jews were smuggled through the property to freedom.

Lunch was back at Amboise, and after that we went to see the Chateau where Leonardo da Vinci lived for 3 years prior to his death. We were on the English-speaking tour of the chateau, and there were only two of us on that tour. Hugely enjoyable. He is actually buried in Amboise, in the chapel of St Hubert.

Note to self, Vouvray is very nice as well.

Travels in France - Loire Valley


Travelling day, and we hope to spend a lot of the day in the ancient city of Tours. This is deep in the Loire valley, and definitely wine-drinking country (Saumur and Vouvray particularly).

Cathedral of St Gatien, Tours
Today was spent mostly in Tours, and we visited a number of the more interesting parts of Tours. Firstly we saw the imposing cathedral of St Gatien, and marvelled at some of the amazing stained glass windows. Many of the windows had stories to tell, including the lives of St Martin and St Nicholas.

A short walk across the city to the old town, which is now full of restaurants and boutiques. Lunch was essential, and we then followed that with a trip to see the Musée des Beaux Arts. Having settled into our new residence (which I discovered later had WiFi) we went to the village of Vouvray, which was blighted by a hailstorm in late spring and many of the vines were damaged for this year. Vouvray is tiny, so we looked at the church and bought some wine (Vouvray, of course). The evening meal was terrific at a local restaurant, and we shared a bottle of St Nicolas de Bourgueil [Note to self - I really like St Nicolas de Bourgueil]

Sunday, 18 August 2013

Travels in France - Western Loire valley.


Another day of travelling, this time from Bayeux south past Le Mans and into the Loire countryside. The venue is Chateau de Montaupin at Oizé, and the whole building is quite imposing. It also has a small swimming pool and the water is very cold. I might just have an early morning dip, although, on the other hand, I might not.

The evening meal was a meal for 18, with all the guests being English speakers. The meal was magnificent, and tired we went to bed.


Le Mans - old town

Slightly overcast this morning, but is probably going to be very hot today. The weather never really made its mind up and we had both sunshine and showers. 

A good day for a trip into Le Mans, which is known as an automobile city, but not for the quaintness of its old town, and the majesty of its 13th Century Cathedral. As it was a sunday, when we walked though the old part of town, inside the ramparts, there was virtually nobody there. 

We saw the cathedral at the second attempt, the first one being sabotaged by the fact that there was a mass on. We wandered off to a local museum (Museum of Reine Berengère) and saw the cathedral at the second attempt.

By this time the weather was changing, and we dodged a heavy shower by dint of being in the car.

Travels in France - Upper Normandy

The first two days of our holiday have mostly involved travelling. Home to Dover is a reasonably quick route involving a series of different motorways: the route was direct, although we did hit the obligatory traffic jam on the M25 near Hertford, because of roadworks.

View from our bedroom

The crossing was quick and efficient, without any problems to speak of, and from Calais, the main aim is to get out of the flat and boring countryside that is the Nord Pas-de-Calais as quickly as is possible. We elected to take the more coastal route that took us  towards Le Havre. The journey was a lot longer than was predicted on google maps, so we stopped at an Aire, where we had cold drink, and saw ducks and a load of enormous fish - they looked like carp to my inexperienced eye - there must have been dozens of them. They were is a canal that ran alongside the Aire, and were being fed by other travellers with pieces of bread.

We headed for Le Havre, and drove through an very impressive series of three bridges across the harbour and the estuary of the river Seine. The view was stunning, and one of the bridges (they were all quite new - presumably built after second world war damage to older bridges) must have had a gradient of at least 1:2. I was the passenger so could linger on the view. 

More travelling afterwards - indeed with the four hours in England and the five hours in France, it made for a surprising day. We arrive at La Suhardière around 6 pm local time, and the house is really pretty. Off the road, just before Caumont ‘l’Eventé, and quiet.

There are two other guests, a mother and her adult son, who are having dinner with us. They speak no English at all, so I have to manage with my ‘O’ level French! It seemed to be satisfactory, however. The food was lovely, and home made, of course. Courgette tart, then Escalope de Dinde with haricots verts, then a rhubarb tart, and then cheese. Très typique! Madame started with a lovely home made aperitif/digestif. It was quite refreshing!

So tiring, so we went to bed.

Wednesday, 14 August 2013

Movin' on...

Had a surprise visit from a cousin last night, whom I haven't seen for around 3 years.

He was aware that I had retired from clinical practice, but was really surprised when I said I was going to retire, that is exactly what I meant. I did love my jobs (as a GP and a GP educator) and I miss them and the fabulous people I worked with. But retirement to me is exactly that - moving on to a new phase in my life where I don't spend most of my day dealing with all sorts of people with all sorts of problems.

I don't really think my colleagues would want me to put a brake on any important decisions in the practice, and they must decide how to take it forward. I can give them my twopennyworth, but I think they can cope without me.

So I am now no longer registered as a doctor with the General Medical Council, and am pleased to be out of their potential clutches, as they do not inspire me as an organisation.

My cousin has changed his arrangements - he was splitting his life between Vancouver and Doncaster, but now is moving to Bristol (a lovely city) where I shall be able to visit him and his wife.

However, tomorrow I am going on holiday, and will hope to blog my way through France.

Saturday, 10 August 2013

7 a.m. on a local canal walk
One of the great delights of leisure is walking. I am blessed, in the area that I live in, that there are lots of lovely walks, not only for the formerly sedentary, but also for the more active walkers.

Many of the best walks are around our local canals, that seem in pretty good repair.

It is nice to walk for an hour each morning, very quickly getting away from the hurly-burly. The pleasures of spotting wild rhubarb, and even a forest of Japanese knotweed on the banks of the local river, which runs right by the local canal. The key to my latter-day enthusiasm will be if I can continue to walk even in the rain.

Wednesday, 7 August 2013

Hi there.....

Three months have elapsed since I wrote anything.

Three glorious happy months off the hamster-wheel of work.

I have not even kept up much with what has gone on in the healthcare system of the UK, as it just seems to be going from bad to worse; I have family and friends who are still working within English General Practice, and they keep me up to date with what is going on. I wish them all the best, as the next 2-3 years will be challenging times for everyone.

I am cautiously returning to blogging, and hope that this is not too self-indulgent.

The next thing on the horizon is a long holiday in France. You might say 'a holiday from what?', and that is a fair point. However, I hope when I return to start giving a viewpoint on healthcare in England, and the position of the patient as well as a retired doctor.

Getting prepared pour mes vacances.......