Once upon a time, not so very long ago, in a town close to where you live, there was a medical centre. It was positioned at the top of a hill where the people of the town could look up and see it as they went daily about their business. The people loved the medical centre and even those who rarely made use of it were glad to know that it was there. Even the Mayor spoke of how much it was valued and loved nothing more than to court popularity by praising its beauty. In time the medical centre became known as ‘The Happy Practice’ and the people would, on occasions, show their appreciation for all that it stood for by stepping outside of their homes and applauding all those who worked there.
But the ‘The Happy Practice’ was not really so happy because it was all too aware of how great the suffering was of so many of the people who lived in the town. One day, aware of the medical centre’s sadness and conscious of his own, having himself been disappointed by love, Dr Swallow, joined the practice in the hope that he might find some consolation for what might have been in his life by being a help in the lives of others.
The work was hard and Dr Swallow found that he was invariably tired by the end of the day. Even so, such was the sense of satisfaction that he gained from serving others that he found that he was always contentedly looking forward to the following day’s work when each night he at last came to rest his head on his pillow before slipping into a deep and peaceful sleep,
But no matter how hard he worked the suffering of the people never ended. And so the time inevitably cane when the medical centre asked Dr Swallow and all the others who worked there with him if they would do just a little more. And because they all wanted to help if they possibly could, Dr Sparrow and all his colleagues agreed.
So the doctors, the nurses, and the HCAs, the receptionists, the admin staff and the practice managers, they all worked a little harder. And as they did so they all grew a little more tired. The joy of the job began to wane a little as the time available to spend with friends began to be cut short and family occasions were not always made.
But despite their efforts the suffering of the people still continued. And soon the Mayor told the medical centre that it had to try and do more. And so, as well as working longer hours, Dr Swallow and those he worked with began to provide ever more complex care, care that once had only been given in hospitals. Everybody tried to do their very best but, with more to do but no more time to do it, sometimes things could not be done as quickly or as well as would have been like. In time a few of the people in the town started to become a little frustrated by ‘The Happy Practice’ and the Mayor began to say that he now thought the medical centre was not such a thing of beauty after all.
Meanwhile Dr Swallow and his colleagues just kept on – working ever more hard and growing ever more tired. So tired, in fact, that sometimes they couldn’t sleep at all.
But no matter how much the medical centre tried to meet the needs of those who came to them for help, the suffering of the people continued. The requests for help kept on coming, not only from the people but also from those who courted the favour of those who suffered despite they themselves being the cause of that suffering.
And soon the requests became demands with the Mayor warning the medical centre that it would ‘suffer the consequences’ if it didn’t work harder, if it didn’t do better.
So the medical centre strived all the more to provide all that was being asked of it even though, without the necessary additional sources, it became increasingly difficult to do so. Waiting times steadily increased until, in time, the delays which once were merely inconvenient for the people became unacceptable. Seriously unacceptable. Soon even ambulances were unavailable to attend the critically unwell.
But rather than being supported to do the job that was being asked of it, the medical centre was merely blamed for anything that went wrong. Even the local press joined the clamour insisting that the practice should deliver the impossible. A long letter was written claiming that the problem was simply the sheer laziness of those who worked there. Everyone quoted it so full was it of arguments that nobody understood.
And so in time, more and more of those who worked at what now could no longer truthfully be called ‘The Happy Practice’ became so tired that they were no longer able to work at all. Soon, understandably, they began to give notice, leaving behind an ever more struggling healthcare team.
And ‘The Happy Practice’ became less happy still. So unhappy that to many it became unsightly, something that many no longer seemed proud to have situated at the top of the hill in their town. The people no longer applauded and, though many, even most, remained quietly appreciative, not infrequently the sound now heard on the doorsteps of the people’s homes was that of criticism. And from a few, there came a hostility that would not even have been imagined possible only a few years previously.
And slowly the heart of ‘The Happy Practice’ was broken. And Dr Swallow decided one night to finally call it a day.
Soon after the Mayor, declaring that it was nothing but a disgrace, decreed that ‘The Happy Practice’ be pulled down. He insisted it was for the best. But he was wrong – it wasn’t for the best at all. For what had once been admired and appreciated soon came to be greatly missed by the people of the town. For, though their still suffered, and in time increasingly so, they no longer had anywhere to go for help.
Not now that Dr Swallow and the ‘The Happy Practice’ were gone.
After Oscar Wilde’s ‘The Happy Prince’
But with the Guardian reporting that 23% of GPs are set to retire in the next few years this is not a fairy tale. And, as with Wilde’s original, not all stories can be guaranteed to have a wholly happy ending. If General Practice falls, the NHS falls too
Other GP related stories:
To read ‘The Three Little GPs and the Big Bad Secretary of State for Health’, click here
To read ‘A Mission Impossible’, click here
To read ‘A Bear called Paddington’, click here
To read ‘Mr Benn – the GP’, click here
To read ‘Jeeves and the Hormone Deficiency’, click here
To read ‘The Dr Scrooge Chronicles’, click here