The British Medical Association is urging GPs to increase the time they allow each patient from ten minutes to a quarter of an hour to avoid risks to health. Surely ten minutes is ridiculously generous already:
‘That’s a wheezy chest you’ve got there, Mrs Pumphret,’ the doctor grinned as he watched the frail old lady climb the stairs. ‘I thought I told you months ago that there was nothing more we could do for your emphysema.’
Shoulders heaving, she stumbled forwards across the landing and into his consulting room, where she collapsed into a chair.
‘Not my lungs,’ she gasped. It was a beautifully appointed room, freshly decorated. ‘Those stairs will be the death of me . . .’
‘Many a true word, Mrs Pumphret!’
‘Takes me an age to climb them.’
‘Three minutes fifty-five seconds,’ he smiled, showing her his stopwatch. ‘That leaves you almost six minutes. And counting. What can I do for you?’
‘It’s my leg, doctor.’
He stooped to take a look at where she was pointing.
‘Well, I’m certainly glad to say that it’s not mine, Mrs Pumphret. A bit swollen, eh? What do you think’s caused it?’
‘I rather hoped you could tell me that, doctor.’
‘Probably, Mrs Pumphret, but we’re close on halfway through this consultation, so you’re asking a bit much. Tell me when the problem started – but keep it snappy, if you don’t mind.’
‘Almost a month ago, doctor. I’ve been trying to make an appointment ever since, but there never seem to be any free spaces.’
‘We’re running a tight ship here, Mrs Pumphret. If we make it too easy for our patients it will devalue the service. Six minutes forty-two.’
He slipped off her shoe, took the leg in both hands and manipulated it until she shrieked.
‘As I thought,’ he said, scribbling something on a pad.
The phone rang and he chatted breezily to his receptionist for a while.
‘So here’s a prescription,’ he said at last. ‘Run along to the chemist with it – as you might say.’
‘Thank you, doctor. So what exactly is my problem, then?’
He swung the stopwatch triumphantly.
‘Ten minutes on the dot! Ask me next time, Mrs Pumphret.’