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Now that’s what I call Christmas

Still practising

Chris Preece

Tuesday, 20 December 2016

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merry christmas - bah humbug_shutterstock_484026451.jpgI fear I may be becoming a bit of a humbug.

Last week we attended a school carol service, the upshot of which was that on the walk home my poor long suffering wife and children had to endure me ranting incoherently about Good King Wenceslas. I’ll spare you the long-winded details, but the general thrust of the rant was that if Wenceslas was such a great king, then why were there poor men having to go out in the middle of winter gathering fuel in the first place? Why hadn’t he ensured a decent supply of fuel and food for his people in advance, and why should we be celebrating his rather pitiful festive after-thought. Particularly when he then insisted on dragging his freezing manservant out with him, with no better suggestion for keeping warm than “try my footprints”.

“Largely Incompetent King Wenceslas, who only acts when his conscience is pricked” might have been a better title I postulated. Oddly, the subject was changed shortly afterwards.

This is unlike me. Normally I am the one running around insisting on being all festive. It’s hard to pin down exactly what’s gone wrong this year. I suspect it started with our practice receiving a CQC inspection in November. We emerged with a “Good” rating, but only at the expense of considerable morale. A colleague on reading our report sent me an email that simply read “It makes you wonder why we bother, doesn’t it?”

It does. It certainly makes you wonder what we’re paying for – particularly given their intention to charge more for doing less – a position condemned by both the BMA’s GP Committee and the NHS Confederation. At a time when the rest of the NHS is doing a lot more, for a lot less, it seems particularly perverse.

So, perhaps that’s why I’m grumpy - but really, that shouldn’t be enough to ruin Christmas, should it?

“So here it is, Merry Christmas, everybody’s having fun…”

Exactly. Everybody’s having fun, of course we are. With an endless cavalcade of people who absolutely MUST be well in time for Christmas, irrespective of whether or not there’s any known cure for their ailment, how could we not be having a wonderful time? 

The hospital has sent out its traditional festive greeting to GPs - advising us to please refrain from admitting sick people because they once again don’t have any beds to put them in.

The Daily Mail, eager to ensure no GP is lonely this year has helpfully run a double whammy of sepsis headlines and a front page declaring you “still” can’t see your GP out of hours. 

We have a social care system that is nothing more than a ghost of its former self, and a PM whose solution to this crisis is a measly increase in council tax – a policy that falls only slightly short of the Scrooge approach of “let them die and decrease the surplus population”.

Humbug indeed.

Except. Despite the Wenceslas rant, despite all of my gripes above, somehow it’s started to get its claws into me. I am, slowly but surely, starting to feel a bit, well, Christmassy.

Which is all thanks to my patients. The last week has been sheer Hell in terms of work, but it’s also been oddly uplifting. This is the one time of year when people say thank you. A lot. People dropping in cards and gifts, letting me know that, in some way shape or form I’ve helped make their life slightly better (or ensured they’ve had one at all).

All of which, somehow, makes it all slightly easier to deal with. A hundred people wanting to be fixed are somehow less daunting when they’re all grateful for your time, irrespective of whether you could actually help them. 

Daily Mail headlines are somehow less infuriating when a patient in your Saturday surgery tells you how angry they were about them too.

A Government that seemingly doesn’t care about the welfare of those in greatest need seems suddenly less of a disaster when you come into work and see the huge pile of gifts donated to the local food-bank, and realise that there are still lots of good people left in the world trying to help out.

Incidentally, I looked up Wenceslas after my rant. As ever, I was largely wrong. Though he’s still a slightly interesting candidate for a Christmas Song – he was brutally murdered by his family during a banquet, a scene many will be trying to resist re-enacting over the holidays.

Apparently his generosity was not, in fact, limited to Christmas. According to Cosmas of Prague in 1119 “no one doubts that, rising every night from his noble bed, with bare feet and only one chamberlain, he went around to God’s churches and gave alms generously to widows, orphans, those in prison and afflicted by every difficulty, so much so that he was considered, not a prince, but the father of all the wretched.”

So maybe that’s it, ultimately. My problem isn’t with Christmas at all. I love Christmas, precisely because it’s the one time of year when everyone looks after everyone else. My problem is with the rest of the year, and with our abject failure to walk in Wenceslas’ footprints.

In the immortal words of Wizzard – “I wish it could be Christmas Every Day.”

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Chris Preece

Chris has worked as a GP Partner in North Yorkshire since 2004, and still relishes the peculiar challenge of never quite knowing what the next person through the door is going to present with. He was the chair of his local Practice Based Commissioning Group, and when this evolved into a CCG he joined the Governing Body, ultimately leaving in April 2015. He continues to work with the CCG in an advisory capacity. When not being consumed by all things medical, Chris occupies himself by writing, gaming, and indulging the whims of his children. He has previously written and performed in a number of pantomimes and occupied the fourth plinth in Trafalgar Square. Tragically, his patients no longer tell him he looks too young to be a doctor.
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