from John in Brighton, UK: an email from the GMC – the General Medical Council

April 10. I readily accept that examples of “being desperate” for the man on the Clapham omnibus would pale into insignificance in many parts of the World. The inveterate smoker on a long haul flight or train journey (not me) or urgently needing a leak on the motorway and the sign you pass says “Services 5 Miles” (been there, done that). Or more topically as the curtain is soon to come down on Lent my current yearning for chocolate after six weeks abstinence – surely that’ll mitigate some of the corona pain that we’re all feeling. But then there’s Matt Hancock’s desperate need for more doctors as their numbers shrink thro’ ill health (including a few deaths) and the vast numbers of patients. There’s no point building giant Nightingale hospitals if you cannot staff them. I was positively reassured that it was only to be doctors within three years of retirement who would get the call “Your Country Needs You” but just replace Kitchener with Matt or Boris. Let’s me off the hook, no need to feel guilty. 

But stone the crows on the afternoon of 2 April an e-mail from the GMC arrives out of the blue to tell me that my licence to practise is temporarily restored and if I don’t opt out within three days my details will be passed to the health service. My heart tells me that this is an opportunity to do my bit, something that will make a difference and is urgently needed – I’d love to do it. My head tells me otherwise and it’s unsafe in two ways. Firstly I’ve just received another text to say I’m high risk and essentially housebound for twelve weeks so that alone kicks it into touch. Maybe I could act as a telephone doc / advice helpline. But more generically I haven’t laid a finger nor a stethoscope on a patient for over five years. Medicine moves forward fast, my abilities retrograde with equal haste. I’m sceptical that a short refresher would get me anywhere near back to speed. I’d be worried that I might be something of a potential liability and I know from personal experience if you do make a serious error the stain on your conscience stays with you to the grave. Even in these unprecedented times I question whether I would want to take the risk and who covers my indemnity? Sadly I’ve declined the offer. Sorry Matt.

There is a final irony to this. I retired a little earlier than planned because of the bureaucracy and demands of revalidation – a process to weed out unsafe doctors (not that I was ever convinced it could). Politically correct, reassuring to the public but we all know that Shipman would have had no trouble revalidating. Maybe I would have still been in a position to help if I had stayed on – press-ganged into early retirement ‘cos I eschewed the safe doctor assessment, unwilling to resume now because I don’t feel safe.

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