THE DR MUNGO CHRONICLES

Three stories of GP Life – but be warned, they’re far too disturbing for children.

PART ONE: MR BENN – THE GP

It was early morning and Festive Road was quiet. Most of the residents were indoors reading the newspaper reports of how GPs were hiding behind locked doors and still refusing to see patients. Some others though, having found themselves put on hold after phoning for an emergency ambulance, were discovering that it wasn’t just primary care that was currently facing unprecedented demand.

At number 52 Mr Benn was sitting in his chair and thinking to himself how it seemed that some people had forgotten that the ‘S’ in NHS was for ‘service’ and not for ‘slave’, that the NHS was intended to be free at the point of need, rather than at the point of whim, and that healthcare can’t be simultaneously quick, cheap and good. ‘You can only have two of those three ideals at any one time’, he said to himself getting up from his chair. ‘But never mind that, what I need is to get away from all of this negativity’. And with that Mr Benn put on his black bowler hat, left his house and started to make his way to the special costume shop from which he knew adventures could start.

On the way he saw a man trying to lift a large box out of the back of his car. Though it was far too heavy for him to carry himself, the man refused to accept the help being offered by his friends who were standing nearby and who were being forced therefore to watch him as he struggled.

It wasn’t long before Mr Benn arrived at the costume shop. He went in and started looking at all the costumes, wondering which one to try on. He saw one costume hanging up that he’d not noticed before. It consisted simply of a cardigan and a tweed jacket complete with leather elbow pads.

‘Who wears a costume like that?’ Mr Benn thought to himself.

Just then, as if by magic, the shopkeeper appeared.

‘Good morning, sir’, said the shopkeeper.

‘Good morning’, said Mr Benn. ‘What uniform is this?’ he asked pointing to the costume he’d just been looking at.

‘Why don’t you try it on and see for yourself?’ the shopkeeper replied. ‘But’ he added, ‘you’ll be needing these accessories’. And he passed Mr Benn a flimsy plastic apron, a surgical face mask and a pair of blue latex gloves.

Mr Benn took the costume into the fitting room and, once inside, he quickly changed. He looked at himself in the mirror and then walked through the door that he knew could lead to an adventure.

On the other side Mr Benn found himself outside a GP surgery. There was a long line of people queuing to enter the building. Mr Benn noticed that the doors were unlocked and that there was no electrified concertina wire fence surrounding the building. Neither was there a sniper gunning down anybody who approached the practice seeking to gain entrance.

Mr Benn made his way past the people, the vast majority of whom were waiting patiently to be dealt with. At the front of the queue, however, a man was shouting at the receptionist and complaining that GPs were lazy, work shy cowards who were overpaid and ought therefore to be ashamed of themselves. He insisted that he knew all this was true as he’d read about it in the paper that morning. When he finally finished shouting, the receptionist calmly explained that, if he’d just like to wait outside for a few minutes, the GP would call him on his mobile and see him for the appointment that had been agreed the previous evening when he’d rung in about his medical concerns.

Inside the building Mr Benn made his way through to the waiting room where a few chairs were appropriately spaced to allow social distancing. On one was sat a frail elderly man. He rose unsteadily to his feet when a smiling young doctor came out of her consulting room and called his name. As she did so, the doctor noticed Mr Benn.

‘Hello’, she said, ‘Are you the locum? It’s so good to see you. We’re snowed under here today as we’re short on doctors, what with one partner self isolating and working from home and another on long term sick leave due to some personal difficulties. Pop yourself in that room over there. All the passwords you’ll need should be in an envelope that you’ll find on the desk. If you need anything, give me a shout’

Mr Benn made his way to the room the doctor had been pointing to as she’d been speaking and within a few minutes, Mr Benn was sat gazing at a computer screen on which a long list of patient names was growing ever longer. As he picked up the phone to make the first call, Mr Benn looked at the clock and noticed that it was only just gone eight o’clock in the morning. The working day had begun. All morning Mr Benn consulted patients either on the telephone or, whenever necessary, face to face. When he had finally completed the morning’s work it was gone half past one.

Having spent the whole morning in his consulting room, Mr Benn felt the need to stretch his legs so he decided to tour the building and see what else was going on. Reception was still busy dealing with a huge numbers of telephone calls and one of the office staff was checking how many blood bottles were left in the building so as to determine whether or not there would be enough for the blood tests that were booked to take place over the coming weeks. The practice nurse was squeezing in an extra leg ulcer dressing at the end of her morning clinic and the HCA was seeing a patient for whom a doctor had requested an urgent ECG.

Upstairs, as if her day was’t busy enough already, the practice manager was now having to have an urgent discussion with the CCG regarding the growing crises over the impending collapse of a neighbouring practice and the admin team were rebooking all the flu clinic appointments that they had spent hours arranging the week before as they had just been informed that the vaccines would be arriving two weeks later than had previously been promised. Back downstairs most of the doctors were still in their rooms either still consulting or working through the mountain of results, letters and reports that still had to be dealt with.

In the final room that Mr Benn came to a doctor was slowly rocking in his chair with his head in his hands. He looked close to tears. Mr Benn stepped into the room and closed the door behind him. The nameplate on the door read Dr Mungo.

‘Are you OK?’ Mr Benn asked. ‘How’s your morning been?’

‘Not the greatest’, the doctor replied. ‘But then, there haven’t been many days that have been all that great recently. One wonders how long it can carry on like this with just too much being asked of us. And I wonder too how long I can carry on. Sometimes I feel like a cardboard cutout of myself, going through the motions like a two dimensional character in a poorly animated children’s cartoon from the late 1960’s or early 1970’s!’

‘Nobody can do it all’, said Mr Benn. ‘And there’s no shame in being asked for more than you’ve got and only being able to give all that you have. Is there anything I can do to lighten your load? I’d be happy to help’.

Dr Mungo asked if Mr Benn would mind doing a home visit and Mr Benn said he’d be glad to and so, within a few minutes, he was heading off to see a man in late middle age who was suffering from a neurodegenerative disease. His wife, Mary, had phoned that morning as she was becoming increasingly concerned about his frame of mind.

When he arrived at the house Mary was waiting for him on the doorstep. She ushered Mr Benn upstairs adding the words ‘You’ll find Midge in the front bedroom’. A cachectic looking man who appeared much older than his years was laid on the bed. He was reluctant to make eye contact and more reluctant still to speak. Mr Benn sat on the edge of the bed and looked around the room. The contents revealed that the occupant had a keen interest in cricket and Mr Benn noticed a photograph of the man he’d come to see batting for the local village team. It had clearly been taken in happier times. Mr Benn allowed the silence to remain for a minute or two before asking in a quiet voice ‘What’s up?’

The man looked at Mr Benn and began to speak.

‘It’s just that I’m such a burden to everyone. And especially to my wife. I can’t do anything for myself now that I’m so weak and so she has to do everything for me. It’s ruining her life. She’d be better off if I was no longer around. I just wish I was dead’.

Mr Benn wasn’t sure what to say and so, for a short time, he said nothing. But then he gently spoke to the man.

‘I’m saddened to hear how difficult your life is at the moment. It must be so very hard for you. I don’t know why this is happening to you and it’s hard for me to know quite what to say. But can I say simply this? You’re not a burden. Just now you need to be carried, but a burden is something that is unwilling borne. Your illness is a burden – but you are not. Though she would no doubt rather that things were different, though your condition is no doubt something that causes her great sadness, it’s clear that Mary loves you. And so, though your condition weighs you both down, she is glad to help carry the load. You are not a burden because she carries you gladly, and a burden gladly carried is not really a burden at all. Please try and take some comfort that you’ve somebody who cares for you as she does. You really are so well loved by her’

Mr Benn paused for a few seconds before adding. ‘And, for what it’s worth, I care about you as well.’

After a few more minutes of silence, Mr Benn stood up. He didn’t know if he’d been of any help but, as he turned to leave, he saw Mary standing at the bedroom door. She smiled at him and whispered ‘Thank you’ as he passed her. Mr Benn, started down the stairs but, as he did so, he glanced behind him and noticed that Mary had entered the bedroom and she and Midge were embracing. And that made Mr Benn smile too.

He arrived back at the surgery just in time to start a busy afternoon consisting of still more phone calls and numerous face to face consultations. Eventually, shortly before 7pm, the work for the day was complete.

Just then a man appeared, sporting a moustache, a pair of circular framed glasses and a purple fez.

‘Excuse me Doctor’, he said ‘Would you mind seeing just one last patient? Given his symptoms, you’ll need to see him in the isolation room’.

Mr Benn followed the man along a corridor until they reached the room situated at its end. The man opened the door and Mr Benn stepped though it. As he had expected, Mr Benn found himself back in the fitting room of the costume shop. He took one last look at himself in the mirror before changing back into his own clothes. In the shop he returned the costume to the shopkeeper before starting the walk home to Festive Road.

As he approached number 52, Mr Benn noticed that the man he’d seen that morning was now being helped by his friends to carry the heavy box into his house. And as he passed a group of people who were chatting happily to one another Mr Benn was able to overhear the topic of their conversation. It was about how much they all appreciated the efforts of those working at the local health centre. It seemed that not everybody believed what they had been reading in the papers.

As he reached his front door Mr Benn thought about the days events. He’d enjoyed spending some time with Midge and Mary and hoped he’d been at least a little help to them. He didn’t want to ever forget that there would always be some things that were genuinely worth doing.

He reached into his pocket for his house key but found there instead an old cigarette card. On it was a picture of a cricketer and Mr Benn recognised it as Midge as he had been in his younger days.

‘How on Earth did that get there?’ Mr Benn said to himself. ‘I guess I’ll never know, but I’ll keep it just the same. It’s just what I need to remember’.

PART TWO: A GP CALLED PADDINGTON

Paddington woke up. He stretched out his arms and yawned the yawn of a bear that had grown accustomed to the comfort of sleeping in a soft bed in a warm house in Notting Hill rather than in a leafy tree in the rainforests of Peru. He emitted a contented growl as he slid his legs over the edge of the bed and made his way to the bathroom. Having washed his hairy face and attended to his impressive teeth, being a bear who was always careful to obey instructions, Paddington left the cotton buds in their packet and, as had become his custom, proceeded to clean his ears out with an electric toothbrush. Then, with a couple of puffs of Otomize, sprayed into each of his auditory canals to treat his unaccountably persistent otitis externa, he finally completed his morning ablutions.

Downstairs breakfast was almost over and Mrs Bird was already beginning to clear the table. Mr Brown however was still sat there reading the morning paper. Paddington noticed the headline on the front page. Once again it was being reported that GPs were irresponsibly refusing to see patients in their surgeries for face to face appointments.

‘I don’t know’, Mr Brown said to Paddington, noticing him as he clambered onto a chair and began to help himself to a bowl of cereal. ‘Who’d be a doctor these days, what with all the bad press they seem to be getting? Sometimes I worry about whether Judy has done the right thing by going to medical school. Surely there must be better ways for her to make a living’.

Paddington continued to eat his breakfast. He was making something of a mess of things and it wasn’t long before Mrs Bird was fussing around him, mopping up the milk that was dripping off the table and collecting in small pools on the floor.

‘I hope you’re not planning on spending the whole day at home’, she said to Paddington. ‘I’ve already got plenty enough to do today without you making more work for me.’

Paddington thanked Mrs Bird for the breakfast and assured her that he had other plans for the day.

‘I thought I might go and see my friend Mr Gruber’, he said to her. ‘There’s something rather important I’d like to talk to him about’.

Paddington made himself a packed lunch made up solely of marmalade sandwiches which he then proceeded to balance on his head before covering them with his hat. Then he put on his old blue duffel coat and bright red Wellington boots and stepped out of the front door of number 32 Windsor Gardens. As he began to make his way down the steps to the street below he heard an angry voice coming from his neighbour’s house. Mr Curry was leaning out of the front window holding a phone to his ear.

‘Oi bear’, he shouted at Paddington ‘I need you to make yourself useful for once and post a letter for me. It needs to be in the post box at the end of the road before 10 o’clock. I can’t do it as I’m stuck here on the phone trying to get through to the GP surgery. I’ve already been kept waiting for 15 minutes and apparently there are still 37 other callers in front of me in the queue. What kind of service do you call that?’

‘I’m sure they’re all doing their very best’, replied Paddington, ‘I hear they are exceptionally busy at the moment and are struggling to cope with…’

Mr Curry was having none of it and interrupted Paddington mid sentence. ‘Don’t you start with all that rubbish about GPs being busy. The truth is that GPs are overpaid and lazy. They’re just scared of a hard days work and are taking advantage of all this nonsense about Covid-19 to make excuses as to why they can’t do their jobs properly. It’s not good enough. Some of us have urgent medical problems that need sorting. I’ve had a nasty wart on my finger for nearly a week now and I’m going to absolutely insist that somebody sees me about today.’

With that Mr Curry threw an envelope out of the window which landed at Paddington feet. Paddington picked it up and waved it cheerfully at Mr Curry. He then carefully slipped it under his hat explaining that that was where he kept everything that was important. He assured Mr Curry that he’d be sure to post it promptly.

‘Just be sure that you do’ Mr Curry growled at Paddington before slamming his window shut with such force that the glass rattled in the frame and Paddington thought for a moment that it might break.

Paddington continued on his way and before too long he was stood on the Portobello Road, outside the antique shop owned by Mr Gruber. Paddington pushed open the door, and as he did so a small bell chimed to announce his arrival.

‘Ah Mr Brown!’ Mr Gruber exclaimed emerging from the room at the back of the shop, ‘How very lovely it is for me to see you. Come in, come in. You are just in time for elevenses. I was just making some tea. Please join me and tell me what it is that I have done to deserve the honour of your company’.

Paddington sat down on an old chair. Mr Gruber poured them both a small cup of a tea from an old China tea pot and then, noticing that Paddington had a troubled expression on his face, asked his dear friend if anything was the matter.

‘Well it’s like this, Mr Gruber. Everyone seems to be blaming GPs for everything. Almost every day the newspapers have something unpleasant to say about them. Are they really the cause of all the problems in the NHS? And what about Judy? She seems such a kind young lady. Will she become mean and uncaring too after she’s been studying medicine for a few years?’

Mr Gruber walked over to where Paddington was sitting and sat down next to him. He smiled to himself as he placed the cups of tea on the small table that was positioned between them.

‘GPs aren’t the problem’, Mr Gruber began in his strong Hungarian accident. ‘And most of the people know it. But there are those who like to have somebody to blame and though it’s only really a very small number who have it in for GPs at the moment, they are making such a lot of noise just now. So you see Paddington, you shouldn’t believe everything that you read in the papers. If there’s one I know for sure it’s that not everything that’s reported there is strictly true. And something else I know for sure is this. You absolutely needn’t worry about Judy. She’ll always be as lovely as she is today.’

‘But why would reporters not want to tell the truth?’ asked Paddington.

‘Why indeed, Mr Brown Why indeed? Now drink your tea and l’ll see if I can’t find us something nice to eat’.

Paddington and Mr Gruber sat and chatted about how busy the NHS was and discussed what, if anything, could be done to make things easier for those who worked in what was, they both agreed, an organisation that needed to be supported rather than constantly criticised. After a while, Paddington stood up.

‘I think, Mr Gruber, that I had better get going. I think I’ll pop along to the doctors surgery that the Brown’s are registered at and see for myself just how busy they really are. Perhaps I could even lend a helping paw.’

And with that Paddington said ‘Goodbye’. He left Mr Gruber’s shop and made his way to the medical centre. It was about a twenty minute walk away and when he arrived it was approaching midday. Outside the front door of the building was a long queue of people. Paddington made his way to the front where a man was shouting at a receptionist and insisting that he be allowed to speak to the practice manager.

Paddington didn’t like the way the man was speaking to the lady behind the desk who was clearly close to tears. He gave a couple of firm tugs on the man’s sleeve in order to gain the man’s attention. The man duly stopped his tirade towards the poor receptionist and turned to look at the furry faced figure that was standing by his side.

‘Excuse me, sir,’ Paddington began. ‘I’m sorry to interrupt what I am sure is a very important conversation but I thought you might like to hear something that my Great Aunt Lucy used to say. She lives in a home for retired bears in Lima now but she always told me that ‘If we are kind and polite, the world will be alright’.

And with that Paddington wandered on into the main body of the medical centre, the man looking incredulously on as he did so. Slowly the man turned back to the receptionist, seemingly lost for words.

‘Was there anything else’, the receptionist asked him, her mouth now breaking out into a broad smile.

‘No, No, Nothing at all. thank you’, said the man. ‘Other than…’ He paused turning to watch as Paddington slipped out of sight. ‘Are you aware that you have bear in your health centre?’

Paddington, meanwhile, was making his way along a quiet corridor. At the end was a door. He pushed it open and found himself in what appeared to be a small store room. In front of him was a cupboard labelled with the words ‘Blood Bottles’. Paddington was a little concerned as to what might lie within so it was with some relief that, when he eventually summoned up the courage to open the door, he found that the shelves were all empty.

To his right was a trolly on which lay a strange looking machine, the like of which Paddington had never seen before. He looked at it closely and saw written over what appeared to be two handles, the words ‘Lift here’. Doing only what he was instructed, Paddington took hold of the handles noticing as he did so their shiny undersides. As he picked them up a light appeared on the machine and a voice that seemed to come from within the machine announced that a shock was advised. Paddington wasn’t quite sure what that meant but as he was pondering what he should do next the voice in the machine spoke again helpfully suggesting that he should press the button that had now started flashing insistently. Paddington clasped the two paddles to his chest with one hand and in so doing freed up the other hand to press the button as he had been directed.

Paddington wasn’t entirely certain what happened to him at that point but the next thing he knew he was he was lying on the floor looking up at the ceiling. Amazingly his hat was still on his head but the fur on his chest was badly singed, his body was covered with a soot like material and he noticed that wisps of smoke were spiralling out of both his ears.

‘Well that was a shock’, Paddington said to himself getting to his feet and brushing himself down. ‘Perhaps it would be better if I moved on and see if I might be able to offer my help more fruitfully elsewhere.’

Paddington made his way back down the corridor passing the reception area again and continuing on until he eventually came to a large room in which were a number of chairs placed in pairs, each pair a couple of metres away from any others. Only one chair was occupied. A young woman sat with her head down staring at the ground. She was fidgeting with her hands and she was having difficulty keeping her feet still. Paddington thought she looked sad and he went over to her seating himself in the chair next to hers.

‘What’s the problem’, he said to the woman who looked up at him, seemingly not registering the fact that she was being talked to by a bear.

‘Oh just everything’, she answered and with that she began to cry and proceeded to tell Paddington so many things that she was concerned about that Paddington didn’t know what to say. He thought it would be best therefore if he said nothing at all and decided instead to gently place his paw on the woman’s hand.

‘I’m sorry you’re sad’ he said, and as he did so a tear began to trickle down his cheek. As he sat there he remembered something else his Aunt Lucy had once told him, something she’d once read about how a real friend, a friend who truly cares, is someone who knows how to share the pain of another, who can stay with that person in their hour of grief and can face with them the reality of their powerlessness.

After a few minutes of silence, the woman looked up and smiled at Paddington, ‘Thank you’, she said. ‘It’s been lovely having you sat with me for a while. You’re a very kind bear.’

Just then a man stumbled into the waiting room. He staggered around until eventually he collapsed onto one of the chairs on the other side of the room to where Paddington and the young woman were sitting. He looked unwell. Very unwell. His skin was sweaty and he appeared confused. Paddington walked over to man and tried to make conversation but Paddington couldn’t make any sense of what the man was saying.

Paddington looked at the clock on the waiting room wall and noticing that the time was a little after one o’clock, had an idea. Perhaps, he thought, the problem was simply that the man was hungry. And with that Paddington lifted his hat and took the marmalade sandwiches that he’d made earlier down from off his head.

“Would you like to share my lunch?’ Paddington asked the man, ‘I never feel my best if I go without something to eat around this time of the day.’

The man didn’t appear to understand what Paddington was saying. He only seemed to be getting more and more unwell. Paddington, confident now that he’d diagnosed the problem correctly, forced open the man’s lips and pushed a little of one of the sandwiches into the man’s mouth. At first nothing happened but slowly the man’s colour returned and his speech became more coherent. Within a minute or two he’d stopped sweating and was sat upright in the chair smiling.

At that moment a doctor rushed into the room having been called by a receptionist who had noticed the sick man when he had first lurched into the building a few minutes previously.

‘What’s up?’ gasped the doctor, catching his breath after running as fast he could from his room on the other side of the building. He’d been busy all morning seeing other folk who were unwell and had just been admitting a patient who was acutely short of breath with what he suspected was a pulmonary embolus.

‘Nothing now, doc!’ smiled the man. ‘thanks to this ‘ere bear! I’d given myself too much insulin this morning and I was having another one of my hypos. But this young bear’s marmalade sandwich has put me right good and proper so it has!’

Paddington didn’t really understand what the man was saying but was glad he was clearly feeling very much better. A number of other people were now gathering in the waiting room and every single one of them was looking at Paddington. Paddington smiled back at them, taking a mouthful of what was left of the half eaten sandwich. ‘Would anyone else like I bite?, he asked. ‘I find that most things seem better after eating a small amount of marmalade’.

It was then that another receptionist walked into the room. She was looking somewhat alarmed. ‘Dr Mungo’, she said nervously. ‘There are some people here to see you. They say they are from the CQC’.

The receptionist stepped to one side revealing the two men and one women who were stood there behind her. They were all wearing smarts suits and clutching clipboards. None of them were smiling. The woman, who seemed to be the leader of the group, stepped forward.

‘We’ve come as a result of reports we’ve received that there is a bear on your premises. As you’ll be aware this is entirely unacceptable and if true will undoubtedly lead to the practice being rated as inadequate and having to shut down immediately’.

The room fell deathly silent. But then the man who had until recently been so unwell, stood up and approached the group of officials. ‘I’ll have you know this young bear just about saved my life’.

‘That’s as maybe sir. But how well a bear may or may not have managed your particular condition doesn’t change anything. The presence of a bear within the walls of a GP practice is a clear contravention of the guidelines that have been laid down to ensure the safe running of medical centres and I am afraid that I therefore have no option but…’

At this point the CQC inspector stopped talking, her eyes drawn to Paddington who had also stood up and was now looking at the woman intently. In fact, so intently was he looking at her, he might even be said to have been staring, one of those hard stares that Aunt Lucy had taught him to give to those who were acting in ways of which they should be ashamed. The inspector flushed, obviously embarrassed by her behaviour.

‘…but perhaps’ the woman continued slowly, ‘we can make an exception in this case. In fact, it will be my recommendation that this practice be rated as ‘Outstanding’, and I will see to it that you won’t face any further inspection for at least three years’.

With that the team of inspectors turned and left the building and everybody started clapping in delight. Somebody shouted ‘Three cheers for Paddington’ and before long a song started up, the gist of which seemed to be that everyone was happy to agree that Paddington was ‘a jolly good fellow’. Paddington however was feeling uneasy and his ursine features could not conceal the fact. Dr Mungo, noticing something was up, stepped over to where Paddington was sat and asked him what the matter was.

‘It’s this letter’, said Paddington, holding out the envelope that Mr Curry had thrown at him earlier. ‘I promised my neighbour that I’d post it by 10 o’clock but I completely forgot. It was only when I went to get my sandwich out from under my hat coat and it fell on the floor that I remembered. And now it’s too late and I won’t be able to post it on time’.

Dr Mungo took the letter form Paddington and laughed. ‘It’s OK, Paddington’, he said. ‘look at the address. It’s a letter for here! And if I’m not very mistaken I recognise the handwriting. It’s that of somebody who is always writing letters of complaint to the practice. I’ll file it with the others!’

Paddington was delighted by the news that Mr Curry’s letter had safely arrived at it’s intended destination. ‘Oh I am glad’, he said, ‘because it is so important one keeps one’s promises’. He paused for a moment. ‘Dr Mungo, try not to be too hard on Mr Curry. I don’t think he means to be unpleasant, it’s just that he doesn’t seem to have much that makes him happy. I think perhaps his life may have been rather hard’.

‘Don’t worry Paddington‘ said Dr Mungo smiling, ‘I’ll do my best to follow the advice of an old Peruvian bear who I believe once said that, ‘If you look for the good in people, you’ll generally find it’.

Paddington smiled. ‘Oh that’s so true, Dr Mungo. Aunt Lucy certainly is a wise old bear. But before I leave you to get on with your work, here’s something else she used to say. ‘However busy you are – always stop for lunch’.

And with that Paddington removed his hat and held out to Dr Mungo what was left of his lunch. ‘How do you fancy a marmalade sandwich?’ he said.

PART THREE: SCOOBY DOO AND THE DESERTED MEDICAL CENTRE

‘Here we are gang!’ announced Fred as he turned off the road and parked the Mystery Mobile in what he was surprised to find was an empty carpark. It was late afternoon and the light was already beginning to fade. Up above dark, imposing clouds were heavy with rain suggesting that the forecasters were correct in their prediction that a storm was on the way. ‘This is the GP practice I attended as a boy’, Fred explained to the other members of Mystery Incorporated. ‘I’ll just pop in and see if I can make an appointment about my haemorrhoids? Why don’t you all get out and stretch your legs?’

‘It looks like we’re the only ones here’, said Daphne stepping out of the vehicle and making her way over to the entrance of the building. To the left of the door there was a solitary metal plate bearing the name and qualifications of a doctor who presumably worked there. From the marks on the wall it was clear that there had once been many more but, assumed Daphne, those to whom they had referred had all now long since gone.

Inside the building all was dark save for the faint glow of a solitary light that partially illuminated a large empty room, the chairs that had one been spread across the carpeted floor now stacked neatly in one of its corners. Velma, who by now had joined Daphne outside the building, tried to open the front door but discovered it was locked. Peering through the glass window she noticed that a whiteboard had been positioned in the foyer on which she could just about make out the words:

PORTSIDE MEDICAL CENTRE IS NOW CLOSED
WE APOLOGISE FOR ANY INCONVENIENCE
FOR MEDICAL ADVICE PLEASE CALL 111

‘I’m sorry Fred’, said Velma, ‘it looks like you’re going to have to put up with your piles a while longer. The place looks like it’s completely deserted’.

But no sooner had she finished speaking a small man appeared around the side of the building. Carrying what seemed to be a medical bag he walked with heavy steps and a head held low which together gave him the appearance of one with the weight of the world on his shoulders. Looking up he was surprised to see four youths and, if he wasn’t mistaken, a large Great Dane standing in front of him.

‘Good evening’, he said. ‘What can I do for you?’

Fred stepped forward and, recognising the man as the doctor his mother had once been in the habit of taking him to see regarding his chronic constipation, went to shake the GPs hand.

‘It’s Dr Mungo isn’t it? I’m Fred, Fred Jones. I used to see you regularly. I was hoping to make an appointment to see you’.

‘It is indeed’, replied the man. ‘Is it the old trouble again?’ Dr Mungo smiled as he surprised himself by how well he could recall the medical histories of former patients despite not having seen then for years. ‘I’m afraid you won’t be able to make that appointment though. The practice has had to shut down. With all the strange things that have been going on here, we haven’t been able to attract the necessary doctors to work here and, as a result, we have been forced to permanently close our doors’.

‘S-s-strange g-g-goings on?’ stammered Shaggy anxiously, ‘W-w-what kind of strange g-g-goings on?’

‘All manner of extraordinary things’, began Dr Mungo. ‘And I don’t just mean the unfathomable actions of the practice nurses who manage the care of diabetic patients in ways that are beyond the comprehension of even the most up to date of GPs. No we’ve witnessed things far more bizarre than that. At first it all seemed innocent enough. The usual reports of vampiric activity from patients following their appointments with our health care assistant. We laughed them off at first but when last year there weren’t enough blood bottles to go round, one couldn’t help wondering if the national shortage might actually be the result of some concerted effort by the undead to accumulate blood products in preparation for one of their unspeakably depraved nocturnal activities. I mean, is that really any less credible than a health service that is supposedly the envy of the world running out of the containers required to run a functional venesection service?’

Fred looked at Daphne and smiled, his eyes suggesting that he thought Dr Mungo might just be one consultation short of a full surgery, his friend indicating her agreement with an almost imperceptible nod of the head and the tapping of her temple with her finger. Dr Mungo, however, oblivious of this exchange, continued undaunted.

‘And then there was all the poltergeist activity,’ he went on. ‘Our digital thermometers started to go missing and then the telephones began to ring constantly throughout the day, frequently for no apparent reason. And then most peculiarly of all, when our senior partner retired and we advertised for a new doctor to take her place, all the many applications we had expected to receive unaccountably never arrived. Not a single one made it to the practice’.

‘How then did you cope without sufficient doctors to do the work?’ asked Fred, doing his best to humour the man who now seemed but a shell of the one who had once so majestically set up a repeat prescription for Movicol paediatric plain.

‘At first we managed by employing locums. For a while we were fortunate to have a Dr Benn working regular for us. But it wasn’t long before he left saying that he wanted to try his hand at other jobs. I believe he spent time as a submariner and then a chef before finally settling down as a zookeeper. Unable to get any other locums the workload of the remaining doctors increased and it was then that the doctors started disappearing.’

‘Jinkies!’, exclaimed Velma. ‘How could doctors just start disappearing?’

‘One was signed off with stress and soon after that another took early retirement. But it wasn’t just doctors that went missing. Drugs were often absent from the pharmacy such that patients frequently had to go without their usual medication. Then came a lack of ambulances and finally there was a dearth of professional carers such that the needs of vulnerable individuals in the community could no longer be met. Slowly but surely public services were vanishing, eroded by what we could only presume was some malevolent force intent on pursuing its wicked plan to undermine all that underpins a civilised society.’

‘That sounds absolutely horrifying’, whispered Fred, feeling some sympathy now for what Dr Mungo had had to endure. But Dr Mungo still wasn’t finished.

‘And then things started to get genuinely scary’. Dr Mungo looked down at the ground and went silent, temporarily unable to say what he knew he must. After a few seconds he lifted his head again and, fixing Fred with fear-filled eyes, told him what he’d vowed he’d never tell anyone outside the circle of those with whom he worked. ‘That’s when they came,’ he said. ‘That’s when the visitations began.’

‘V-v-visitations?’, stammered Shaggy, his teeth chattering in nervous unison with his knocking knees. ‘Who w-w-was it that c-c-came?’

‘Decerebrated CQC inspectors!’

‘Decerebrated? You mean…’ Fred stopped mid sentence unwilling to speak the word he feared would somehow make a reality of what surely was nothing more than the fevered imagination of a physician who had undertaken one too many sessions of extended hours.

‘That’s right Fred they were absolutely brainless’ continued Dr Mungo, completing Fred’s sentence for him. ‘They would appear out of nowhere with clipboards in hand and terrify us by asking us to account for every paper clip that the practice ever used and how we might cope in the event of a alien invasion. They never smiled Fred, they never smiled, contenting themselves instead by making detailed notes of everything we said as slowly and surely they drew their plans against us. And when they did eventually leave, seemingly disappointed by the satisfactory answers we had given, they promised that one day they would return with even more stringent conditions with which we would have to comply’.

With this final terrifying revelation Dr Mungo had clearly had enough. Falling to his knees he took his head in his hands and began to gently sob.

‘Follow me everyone’ said Fred taking the keys that Dr Mungo had been holding and unlocking the front door of the medical centre. ‘Let’s go inside and see if we can catch ourselves a ghost!’

Scooby Doo repeated the word ‘Ghost’ in that questioning tone of his that he often employed to indicate reluctance but when Velma offered him a Scooby snack he gave up his hesitation and gladly followed on behind the rest of the gang.

‘Let’s split up and look for clues’, suggested Fred. ‘Daphne and I will head upstairs whilst the rest of you see what you can find down here.’ And with that Fred and Daphne headed off in the direction of the stairwell.

Velma, Shaggy and Scooby made their way cautiously across the waiting room and towards the corridors off which doors opened onto a number of consulting rooms. They stopped at the first of these and Velma slowly eased open the door which creaked on its hinges in a way that only served to heighten their anxiety further. Inside they were struck by how cold the room was. It seemed to contain an unnatural chill, one that managed somehow to permeate their bones in a way they none of them had ever previously experienced.

‘Loike that’s some weird phenomenon of temperature regulation’ said Shaggy, voicing what he knew he Scooby was thinking too.

‘Don’t be ridiculous Shaggy’, replied Velma. ‘It’s just that the heating’s off. What with energy prices being what they are I imagine the practice would struggle to heat a building the size of this. But look, what’s that?’

Velma was pointing towards a dark corner of the room where there was a pile of putrid smelling material the exact nature of which was as yet unclear. Velma leaned forward to get a closer look and then recoiled in horror as she realised exactly what it was she was staring at.

‘What is it?’ asked Shaggy. ‘Ectoplasm?’.

‘Not ectoplasm Shaggy, but some equally vile substance exuded from an inhuman source. It’s a pile of Daily Mail newspapers, each denigrating those working in primary care and blaming them for the pressures the NHS is now experiencing.’

‘Zoinks!’ shouted Shaggy. A petrified Scooby jumped into Shaggy’s arms and the two of them trembled together for a minute like animated characters in a Hanna-Barbera cartoon of the late 1960s and early1970s. Eventually Shaggy lowered the quivering Scooby back down to the ground and expressed his desire to leave.

‘Let’s get out of here’ he yelled.

Scooby indicated his approval of the plan and, with that, both his and Shaggy’s legs began to move at great speed even though it was several seconds before they themselves started to actually move towards the door through which they had entered. Soon they were safe again, back in the corridor outside where they were shortly joined by Velma who had wasted no time in following on behind them.

*******

Meanwhile Fred and Daphne had arrived upstairs. As their made their way across what they took to be the general office they were stopped in their tracks by the sound of someone or something moaning hideously. The unearthly noise was interspersed by a thumping sound which grew louder with each successive thud.

‘Jeepers Fred. What’s that?’ whispered Daphne.

‘I don’t know’, replied Fred, breaking out into a cold sweat as he did so. ‘But whatever it is, it sounds like it’s coming from behind that door’

Fred was indicating a door off to the side of the office space. They made their way over to it and slowly pushed it open to see what might be on the other side of its wooden panels. Sat at a desk was a young woman who was banging her head repeatedly on her computer keyboard, groaning in anguish as she did so. Looking up she saw the two intruders and, composing herself, stood up and tried to convey an air of professionalism.

‘Hello there, I’m Rebecca and I’m the practice manager here. ‘How can I help you?’

‘We were rather wondering if we could help you!’ Daphne replied. ‘What’s the matter?’

‘Oh it’s just that the goalposts keep moving’, the practice manager replied.

‘What do you mean?’, said Fred. ‘Are you experiencing more poltergeist phenomenon?’

‘No, no. Nothing like that. It’s just that I’ve just had another call about this years flu vaccinations. It seems that the procedures that we are being asked to follow in delivering them have been changed yet again. It’s the devil’s own job to keep up with it all.’

‘Well then, we’re sorry to have disturbed you Rebecca.’ said Daphne motioning to Fred that they should leave. Exiting the room they looked back and saw the young woman trying to replace the hair she had recently pulled from her scalp.

*******

Back downstairs Velma, Shaggy and Scooby were exploring the area behind the reception area where patients had for many years been welcomed to the practice. To one side there was a rest area which Shaggy noticed doubled as a kitchenette.

‘Hey Scoob’, he said, ‘Fancy looking for something to eat?’

Scooby, by way of endorsing the suggestion, laughed in that way that he does, a way far too difficult to convey in words. Closely followed by Velma, they entered the area known as ‘The Chill Zone’ whereupon Shaggy and Scooby proceeded to look for anything that might be edible. All they found though was an all but empty jar of coffee granules and a tin that had once contained biscuits, evidenced by the broken remains of a single custard cream that they found within it.

Turning to the fridge Shaggy stopped as he noticed on its metal door a message that had been spelt out in magnetic letters and left as a warning to any who might later come across it.

BEWARE
THE
COFFE

Though incomplete, the meaning appeared plain. Someone had clearly fallen foul of the caffeinated refreshment that had been offered them, contaminated as it had been, perhaps, by some inhuman fiend.

As they stared at the words Shaggy became aware that Velma was on her hands and knees and was crawling around on the floor beneath him. As she had entered the room she had slipped on a laminated sheet of paper that detailed the protocol to be adhered to when using the chairs. Ironically it had been dropped by a health and safety inspector who had visited the practice the previous week and had now become a trip hazard. As she’d stumbled, Velma’s glasses had fallen from her face and now, temporarily blind, she was trying to relocate her optical aids. Eventually she stumbled upon them but not before she had also come across five more magnetic letters made up of two E’s, an R, an S and a Y. Standing back up up she stuck them back on the fridge door and so revealed the intended, far more chilling counsel that the unknown advisor had meant to convey.

‘Beware Therese Coffey’, Velma said, nodding as she did so. ‘I think that is guidance we would all do well to take firmly on board’.

Just then Daphne and Fred arrived and together the gang concluded that there was no more for them to do. They made there way back to the front entrance and went outside where it had now begun to rain. Dr Mungo was still there. He was seated on the floor, rocking back and forth, and dribbling into his newly acquired beard, the result of his not having been home for three days on account of how tied up he’d been at work. His lips were moving silently, repeatedly mouthing the words ‘Please come and work for us’ to non existent passers by, offering them as he did so, one of the sheaf of job adverts he had pulled from his bag earlier.

Fred sat down on the cold and increasingly damp floor and was immediately reminded of why he had originally wanted to visit the medical centre of his youth. He put his arm around Dr Mungo who, clearly having lost the plot, was now insisting that the practice had once had a visit from Paddington Bear.

‘I’m afraid, Dr Mungo, that we’ve meddled as much as we can but not even we can stop whatever is behind the current demise in general practice from getting away with it. But rather than anything supernatural going on, I think what we are seeing is the inevitable effect of a system that is being asked too much of and not being valued the way that it should. I’m sorry Dr Mungo but please understand this – your inability to keep a sinking ship afloat is no reflection on you’.

Fred tried to stand up but was prevented from doing so by Dr Mungo who, grabbing hold of his arm, proceeded to reach into his medical bag and pull out a tube of Anusol HC. He pressed it into the palm of Fred’s hand. ‘Take this’ he said, staring intently into Fred’s eyes. ‘For old times sake

Holding back a tear, Fred finally managed to get to his feet and indicated to the gang that it was now time to make their way back into the Mystery Mobile. Scooby held back a moment before approaching the once competent GP and affectionately licking him squarely on the face. ‘Scooby Dooby Doo’ he said in an uncharacteristically forlorn tone but one, nonetheless, that seemed befitting the occasion. Scooby then rejoined the others and Fred started the engine of the motorhome which slowly pulled away leaving the bereft Dr Mungo alone with his fears.

Overhead the storm that had been expected had finally arrived and claps of thunder rumbled repeatedly across the sky. Only it wasn’t just the sound of clouds colliding that could be heard that night for, beneath that most dreadful of noises, there was another, yet more ominous, sound – that of an evil laugh, more sinister than any other, a muahahaha to end all muahahaha’s before it.

Overhead the storm that had been expected was now raging and claps of thunder rumbled repeatedly across the sky. Only it wasn’t just the sound of clouds colliding that could be heard for, beneath that most dreadful of noises, there was another yet more ominous sound – that of an evil laugh, more sinister than any other, a muahahaha to end all muahahaha’s before it.

Getting to his feet, Dr Mungo looked across the car park hoping to see that the members of Mystery Incorporated hadn’t really left. He’d meant to ask Fred if he was still in need of some Desmotabs. But it was too late, they were all long gone, far away and out of sight.

‘Scooby Dolby Doo’, he murmured despondently to himself, ‘Where are you? We need some help from you now!’


Other GP related tales:

To read ‘Bagpuss and the NHS’, click here

To read ‘A Dream of an Antiques Roadshow’, click here

To read ‘The NHS Emporium’, click here

To read ‘Mr McGregor’s Revenge – A Tale of Peter Rabbit’, click here

To read ‘Jeepy Leepy and the NHS’, 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 ‘The Happy Practice – A Cautionary Tale’, click here

To read ‘The Scrooge Chronicles’, click here

To read ‘Jeeves and the Hormone Deficiency’, click here

To read ‘General Practices are Go!’, click here

To read ‘A Mission Impossible’, click here

To read ‘A Grimm Tale’, click here

To read ‘The General Practitioner – Endangered’, click here

To read ‘The State of Disrepair Shop’, click here

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