It was January 2021 and Lady Penelope was taking tea in the drawing room of Creighton-Ward Mansion when her chauffeur, Parker, appeared at the door.
‘I’m sorry to bother you milady’ he began, ‘but the Secretary of State for Health is on the phone. He’s at some Downing Street party and wondering if you’d care to join him’.
‘Not him again,’ replied Lady Penelope striding over to where Parker was holding the phone. ‘When will that lecherous little man realise I don’t want to have anything to do with him. And, what’s more, to attend a social gathering in the present circumstances is completely wrong and whilst some in government may consider themselves above the law, this lady of the realm most certainly does not! Give me the phone Parker, I’m going to give him a piece of my mind’.
Lady Penelope took the phone from Parker and, before the caller could say a word, that’s exactly what she proceeded to do.
‘Mr Secretary of State’ she growled down the line, ‘you should be ashamed of yourself, partying whilst daily Covid deaths sore ever higher. You need to do something and do something quick. If you had any sense you’d be calling on those who can always be relied upon in an emergency. If I was you, I’d be calling on the new primary care wing of International Rescue.’
And with that Lady Penelope ended the call and threw herself down onto the chaise lounge that was situated by her side.
‘That’s the way to deal with men like that Parker. Now, if you would be so good as to bring me another pot of Earl Grey I’d be most awfully grateful. And, perhaps, a large measure of Talisker to accompany it. Speaking to people like that leave one somewhat in need of a restorative.’
Meanwhile, far away on a remote island somewhere in the South Pacific, Jeff Tracey was in a meeting with two of his five GP sons, the other three joining them via Zoom from International Rescue’s space station. Also present were other allied members of the organisation. They were all discussing what their response should be to the news they had recently received from Lady Penelope. In her role as special agent in London, she had discovered that their evil nemesis, ‘The Hood’, had managed to infiltrate British politics and subsequently risen to become Prime Minister. By employing his powers of hypnosis he had even managed to convince a large proportion of the electorate that he was both a competent and respectable national leader.
Their deliberations were interrupted when the phone on Jeff Tracey’s desk flashed red indicating that a distress call was being received. Picking up the phone and listening to the voice on the other end of the line, he echoed back the callers opening words.
‘You say you’ve had a wonderful idea?’ He said, his voice suggesting that he doubted that such a thing was possible. Covering the mouthpiece of the phone he indicated to the others that it was the Secretary of State for Health who was calling. He then continued the call, repeating key statements so as to convey to the gist of what was being said to everyone one else who was in the room. ‘No I didn’t see the announcement on the television this evening…a national vaccination programme to commence tomorrow you say…with jabs being made available in local centres right across the country.’
When at last the caller had finished speaking, Jeff paused for a moment, considering his reply.
‘Well you might have thought to speak to us before you made such an announcement to the general public. General Practice may well be ideally positioned and though the efforts of those who work within it are not infrequently superhuman, it remains the case that each and every person who makes up the primary care workforce, as well as those who work elsewhere in the NHS, are ordinary individuals whose willingness to help cannot, and must not, be taken for granted in this way. Even so, since International Rescue exists for the sole purpose of saving human life, we will do all we can to help. You can rely on us.’
Ending the call Jeff looked around the room and formulated his plan. First he gave instructions to his bespectacled lead scientist.
‘Brains, you and Tin Tin, must work alongside those infinitely resourceful and wonderfully capable practice managers and coordinate the implementation of the delivery of the vaccine.’
‘Just as you say, Mr Tracey. We’ll get on to it immediately’. Brains and his trusted assistant stood up and made their way to the door. Then Jeff Tracey turned to the two sons who were present with him in the room.
‘Scott, you take Thunderbird 1. I want you to be first on the ground overseeing the set up of vaccination centres across the country. Tap into the eagerness to help, not only of GPs but also of practice nurses, admin staff and receptionists and thus pull together a team capable of delivering the largest vaccination program in history. And Virgil, with Pod 6 packed full of vials of Pfizer, Modena and AZ vaccines, you are to take Thunderbird 2 and distribute them the length and breath of the UK. Have you got that boys.’
‘F.A.B. Father. Thunderbirds are Go!’
And so began the roll out of the highly effective national vaccination programme, the like of which the country had never seen before. Shy of publicity, and eager to keep their identity a secret, International Rescue members smiled inwardly to themselves as those in Government sought, perhaps, to take a little too much credit for what was actually achieved as a result of the tireless efforts of countless individuals. Still, it was enough for those involved to know that there’s was a job well done.
A year or so later, a lone GP sat at his desk and waited for the lateral flow test that he had just taken to reveal it’s result. It had been another long day and as the last consultation had drawn to a close Dr Mungo had begun to feel slightly unwell. Perhaps he was just worn out given how impossible the job had become. Workload had never been so heavy and patient demand had never been so high. It was no surprise of course, given the ever lengthening list of those waiting for hospital treatment, the surge in patients suffering with poor mental health and a workforce crises that was resulting in the collapse of GP practices right across the country. Furthermore, GP morale, already at an all time low, was only being made worse by criticism in the press, a criticism, tacitly endorsed by some in government, that suggested that it was simply lazy and overpaid GPs who were responsible for the problems that the NHS was experiencing.
‘Oh that you could get an ambulance as quickly as the result of a Covid test’, Dr Mungo said to himself recalling how he’d had to wait three hours for an emergency response vehicle to arrive having called for one earlier in the day for a patient experiencing marked difficulty in breathing. ‘Well that’s me working from home for the next week or so.’ he sighed as the second red line appeared in the window of the plastic test that lay on the desk in front of him. He didn’t relish the prospect. It wasn’t only that his being away would put additional strain on the practice, it was also that he did so hate consulting remotely and not being able to see his patients face to face.
As he sat with his head in hands, he remembered something that an aristocratic friend of his had once said to him. Penny, as he had known her, had told him that, were he ever to find himself in dire need of help, there was a number he could call that would be sure to lead to him receiving the assistance he required. He’d kept a note of number she’d given him ever since and he now scrolled through his contacts desperate to make use of it. At last he found it. ‘Under I’, he said to himself smiling, ‘just as you’d expect.’
He entered the number into his phone and waited for what seemed like an age. Eventually a voice came onto the line.
‘Hello’ it said hesitantly. ‘Can I help?’
‘Is that ‘International Rescue?’ Dr Mungo asked, questioning for a moment if he might have misdialled given how uncertain the one who answered his call seemed.
‘Well it used to be’, came the reply. ‘I’m just the caretaker. Most of the others have gone now, what with all the changes we’ve had round here. It’s the funding you see. We used to get some government support but that all dried up, as a result of all the money that was wasted on the crippling expensive, not to mention disastrously ineffective, test and trace service, the budget for which was greater than that for the whole of primary care. And then there was the stress of it all. Scott left to take up a job stacking shelves in a local supermarket and Virgil eventually burnt out and joined the ranks of the long term sick, his precarious mental state evidenced by the fact that he began writing pastiches whose storylines were as stilted as the movements of the characters in a Gerry Anderson TV series of the 1960s. The Thunderbirds themselves have all been decommissioned and sold for scrap – except for Thunderbird 4 that is. Dr Gordon Tracey continues to offer a service as best he can but, without Thunderbird 2 to transport the yellow submersible, it isn’t always possible to reach people in as timely a fashion as he would like. Even so, I’m sure he’ll do what he can if you know someone who’s drowning.’
‘Oh I know a few of those’, Dr Mungo whispered in response, ‘but not in the way you’re thinking. I’m not sure your submarine will be of much help to them.’
And with a ‘Thanks anyway’ not dissimilar to those he’d heard from patients who had sometimes left his consulting room seemingly dissatisfied with what he’d been able to offer them, Dr Mungo said his goodbyes and ended the call.
‘Thunderbirds are go’ he thought to himself. Not any longer. Now it was more a case of ‘Thunderbirds are gone’.
And he wondered how long it would be before the same would be said of General Practices too.
Other GP related stories:
To read ‘Bagpuss and the NHS’, click here
To read ‘Mr Benn – the GP’, click here
To read ‘A Bear called Paddington’, click here
To read ‘The Three Little GPs and the Big Bad Secretary of State for Health’, click here
To read ‘Dr Wordle and the Mystery Diagnosis’, click here
To read ‘A Mission Impossible’, click here
To read ‘Jeeves and the Hormone Deficiency’, click here
To read the whole of ‘The Scrooge Chronicles’, click here
To read ‘The Happy Practice – A Cautionary Tale’, click here
To read ‘A Grimm Tale’, click here
To read ‘The General Practitioner – Endangered’, click here
Other related posts:
To read ‘On being Overwhelmed’, click here
To read ‘On Not Remotely Caring’, click here
To read ‘Vaccinating to Remain Susceptible’ click here
To read ‘Shot of Love’, click here