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Paul Kirkley: It’s easier to see the Pope than your GP





When did getting a doctor’s appointment become so impossible? More to the point, why has getting a doctor’s appointment become so impossible? And why are we putting up with it? It’s like we’ve all just accepted it as one of those irritating but unavoidable facts of modern life, like coronavirus or LadBaby.

Why has getting a doctor’s appointment become so impossible?
Why has getting a doctor’s appointment become so impossible?

Seriously, it would be easier to get an audience with the Pope than a face-to-face with my GP. Even getting through to the receptionist, so they can tell you to go away, feels like a quest on a par with Frodo’s trip to Mount Doom. I mean, we’ve all got used to the “you are in a queue, your call is important to us” spiel, but now my doctor’s has added a tenth circle of Hell where you have to queue to get in the queue. And if the queue is full, then tough. Take a paracetamol and try again tomorrow.

Perhaps Pope Francis will take my call more quickly than the GP? Picture: PA
Perhaps Pope Francis will take my call more quickly than the GP? Picture: PA

Obviously you can’t book any appointments in advance: they went out with Spangles, so now you have to make like an ingrowing toenail is a life-or-death emergency. And calling at 8am has become a bit like the fastest finger first round on Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?. Call at 7:59:59 and you’ll get a message saying the surgery is closed; redial one second later and 15 people have inexplicably slipped in ahead of you. Who are these people, and what’s their secret? I’ve no idea, but I wouldn’t want to face them in a Wild West shootout. I bet they always manage to get Glastonbury tickets as well.

In desperation a couple of weeks ago, I took my son down to A&E at 4am. And yes, it took us five hours to be seen, but it was in the middle of the insane heatwave, and they had air-con, so I didn’t really mind. Turns out he had tonsillitis, so we got some antibiotics from the Addenbrooke’s pharmacy, and off we went.

A few days after he’d completed the course, though, the tonsillitis flared up again, so I phoned the doctor to see if we could get another prescription. Having finally got through, I was told to call 111, which I did. After navigating my way round their system, I eventually got to talk to a nice man who told me he’d send a referral to my GP surgery, and could I call them and let them know? By this time, I was starting to appreciate how a ping-pong ball must feel. But anyway, I managed to get through to the doctors, and they said someone would call me back. Which they didn’t, so the next morning it was back for another round of fastest finger first.

We eventually managed to pick up a new batch of antibiotics at 11am – 21 hours after I’d made the original call. Twenty-one hours in which my son had got sicker, and hotter, and more distressed.

None of this, of course, is the fault of the poor people answering the phones (or not answering them, if the system can’t cope). If anything, they’re even more at the sharp end: between them, my mum and my sister have a combined 50+ years in the doctor’s receptionist game. It’s practically our family business. So it’s never acceptable to take out your frustration on them.

But clearly something’s going to have to give, before we’re all forced to bite the bullet and go private. Unless that’s what the plan was all along?

Katie Martyr at Cambridge University Botanic Garden which held the UK record high temperature of 38.7C until recently Picture: Keith Heppell
Katie Martyr at Cambridge University Botanic Garden which held the UK record high temperature of 38.7C until recently Picture: Keith Heppell

So, Cambridge has lost its record as Britain’s official global warming hotspot, with the mercury hitting 40.3C at Coningsby in Lincolnshire earlier this month. (The previous high, recorded in our own Botanic Garden in 2019, was 38.7C.)

The heatwave didn’t just provide a terrifying vision of our planet’s future, of course. This being 2022, it also had to come with a tedious culture war on the side. “Sunny day snowflake Britain had a meltdown!” screamed the Daily Mail front page, seemingly oblivious to the fact the only people having a toddler tantrum over basic public health advice was them.

Meanwhile rent-a-gob Tory MP Christopher Chope claimed extreme weather warnings were an example of ‘Big Brother’ attempting to “take control of British society”. Presumably he also thinks ‘Danger: Overhead Wires’ and traffic STOP signs are an infringement of his civil liberties. (“If I want to climb up a live electricity pylon to rescue a frisbee, the nanny state isn’t going to stop me!”)

Labour Party leader Sir Keir Starmer on a visit to Addenbrooke's Hospital Picture: Keith Heppell
Labour Party leader Sir Keir Starmer on a visit to Addenbrooke's Hospital Picture: Keith Heppell

Recently, I suggested to my wife that “there’s a lot to be said for boring men”. At which point she leaned over and gave me a consoling pat on the arm, even though I hadn’t actually meant me. Everyone’s a critic, eh?

I’d actually been talking about Keir Starmer, and the idea that he’s too dull to be prime minister. Which strikes me as an odd criticism because, if there’s one thing we’ve learned from the three-ring circuses of Boris, Trump et al, it’s that we’ve probably had enough of ‘characters’ for a while. Bring on the men (and women) in grey suits, I say. The more boring the better. Like an Ed Sheeran song in human form.

But then, as a society, we’ve always underappreciated the dull and the dependable (a boring man writes). I remember when I read Wuthering Heights, I couldn’t help thinking that Cathy would have been a lot better off with sweet, doting Edgar Linton than that brooding, mercurial bad boy Heathcliffe. Though, granted, it might not have been a very interesting book. You also see it in things like EastEnders, which assumes no woman can resist the dangerous allure of a certified wrong ‘un, and where being a violent gangster who shoots people in the face is still considered less of a crime than being as boring as Ian Beale.

As for Starmer, a common criticism found in polling is that voters “don’t really know who he is”. Which I can’t help but think is a euphemism for “can’t be bothered to find out”. As a result, so much of our politics is now aimed at the section of the electorate who cares the least about it, where the only people who cut through are the so-called ‘Big Personalities’. And look at where that’s got us.

Liz Truss and Rishi Sunak Picture: Jacob King/PA (58355939)
Liz Truss and Rishi Sunak Picture: Jacob King/PA (58355939)

Finally, I was going to write something wittily satirical about the Tory leadership contest but, honestly, how can you top the real thing? Now we’re down to the final two, it’s a straight fight between a Quentin Blake drawing of Thatcher’s ghost and Will from The Inbetweeners – both of whom refuse to even talk about the major issues facing the country, and the world, let alone offer a plan for how to deal with them. It’s a contest best summed up by the fact that lifelong Eurosceptic and Leave campaigner Rishi Sunak is now being dubbed “a remainer”, and ardent Thatcherite Liz Truss stands accused of being “a socialist”. Meanwhile, Truss, the remainer-turned-hardline Brexiter, is now having to backtrack on all the warnings she made about leaving the EU, even though they’ve all turned out to be true – which is surely the first example in history of a politician pretending to be wrong about something.

Anyway, by the time I see you next month, we’ll have a new prime minister, who I can confidently predict will be the worst since the last one. But hey, as long as they’re not boring, eh?

Paul Kirkley was named Columnist of the Year at the 2021 UK Regional Press Awards. Read more from Paul every month in the Cambridge Independent.



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