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INSIDE TRACK: Our GPs need the time to do their job

Is it just me, or is there something odd about the chair you sit in during a GP appointment?

After about six minutes of perching, for a reason that is hard to fully identify, I start to feel that I have to vacate it. This pressure grows the longer I remain in the consultation room, to the extent that I often leave without asking something.

Earlier this month in my capacity as health correspondent I interviewed two GPs about the intensity of their patient workload and their concern that it is growing increasingly difficult to recruit family doctors. While I was conscious of not wasting their time, it didn't stop me putting all the questions I thought mattered and I had everything I needed for my article when I hung up.

Ironically, earlier the same day I had been to see a GP at my own practice. She was very nice but it took extra willpower on my part to cover the second reason I had booked an appointment and by the time I had finished that discussion I knew there was no way I was going to mention either of the following: That I turned 40 more than a month ago and there is no sign of my "life begins" health check, and perhaps more importantly, the genetic breast cancer service once told me I should have regular checks from this age and given I am almost certainly lost to any follow-up system (I've moved twice) I'm wondering what to do about this.

Considering all the access to health information I enjoy you would think I could sort these minor issues out, but I did not feel I could bring them up. This is not a complaint about the GP trying to conclude our conversation - just a reflection of how pressure on her time filtered down to me as the patient.

GPs often complain that hospital care hogs the spotlight, and while there may be some reason for that, my hunch is they do have a point. There are targets and measures which show hospitals are under growing strain and the government has invested money and set up special groups to help tackle that.

Meanwhile, GP appointments have doubled in 10 years, but we can't really see what that has meant for the patient or doctor except through anecdotes. Would surgeries like to have more time per person? Of course they would.

The GP is a vital part of the NHS when it comes to meeting some of the Scottish Government's key priorities - one of which is to detect more cancers early. If patients felt more able to raise one last thing during their appointment would more cancers be picked up?

As I ask this, I can almost hear the disembodied voice of a GP in my ear saying this is the last thing they need: Everybody slipping in an extra niggle when there is no evidence it would improve outcomes.

But GPs made it clear at their annual local medical committee conference in Clydebank the other week that what they do need is more staff and more resources.

My point is this should not be dismissed as more whinging from those doctors who got a big pay rise 10 years back. When it comes to the Scottish Government's spot-on ambitions for a health service which is as safe and patient-centred as possible, the consultation between patient and GP should matter a lot.

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Health

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