The Sunday scaries – that discomfiting feeling in the evening with a new work week looming large in the windscreen – were particularly unpleasant for me this week.
My blood sugar chose Sunday to hurl me onto the physiological rollercoaster ride that type 1 diabetics are all too familiar with. A brief explainer: unlike the more common type 2 diabetes, type 1 isn’t treatable by lifestyle, tablets, or any means other than shooting up insulin before every meal – and again at night. It is an autoimmune disorder that knocks out your insulin-producing cells; in my case it kicked in when I was just two years old.
You can have an insulin pump installed to treat it, but I’m not especially keen on the idea, and it’s not really necessary for me. My control is usually good. Very good in fact. It takes blood sweat and tears to get oneself to the point I’m at (well, blood at any rate; you have to test it pretty regularly).
But recently it has been a little snippy, and that sleepless Sunday was the straw that broke the camel’s back. I decided I really needed to call the GP to get some advice. Now, I am – in theory – supposed to be under Whipps Cross Hospital. But I’ve already written about the bad joke that place has become when it comes to taking care of people with long-term conditions.
My GP is, by contrast, of gold standard. Of course, you can probably guess what happened next. Even with a long-term health condition taking upon itself to behave like a two-year-old throwing a tantrum, the best the surgery could offer me was a phone call in two weeks.
This episode neatly coincided with a report in the Daily Mail about the number of GPs earning £200k, doubling to 631 in the last year. I’m supposed to be outraged, right? Blasted GPs, trousering wads of cash while I can’t even get seen in the middle of type 1 diabetic hell. Well, no. For the record, here are my thoughts about GPs earning £100k, £200k or even £500k (a small number apparently do that): I don’t care. Not in the slightest. I wouldn’t care if they were earning a cool million if that meant I could be seen.
A couple of days before this, Wes Streeting – Labour’s bright and ambitious shadow health secretary – barrelled into the increasingly fraught debate about GPs and waiting times. “Reform is not a dirty word”, he declared. “I’ll stop GPs being gatekeepers, and make them salaried NHS employees!”
Wes Streeting is a smart man. I’m a constituent of this, which means I’m well aware of that fact. He might be PM one day, and I suspect he’d be good at the job. But when it comes to the question of whether GPs are employed via partnerships, businesses, or NHS salaries, I still can’t bring myself to get too worked up about it.
Here’s why: What I do care about is the real cause of this problem: a chronic shortage of GPs. The long waits to get seen is a simple function of supply and demand. Too much of the latter, not enough of the former. People like me are at the sharp end of that.
Beating up on medics and adding yet more turmoil is not going help that. Finding more GPs and treating them with a little more respect? That might work. I suspect Streeting is well aware of this. In fact I know he is, because he has promised to train more GPs; something the Tories have notably failed to do. Trouble is, in the meantime he’s been engaging in cheap, performative politics. He expressed surprise when the British Medical Association pushed back against his suggestion, but what did he expect? The flip side of failing to train enough GPs is that too many of them are departing the profession; a problem affecting multiple parts of the public sector.
This is only exacerbated by politicians picking fights, and popular media outlets declaring open season on public sector workers and how much they are paid (or the actions they are taking to ensure their pay keeps pace with an inflation which has crashed into the standard of living of working Britons like a wrecking ball). Perhaps Streeting should instead try attacking his political opponents, who bear responsibility for this situation. They’re the people we should all be holding to account.
In the meantime, patients like me are being left to swing; to spend Sunday nights doing a plausible impression of a vampire, before attempting to start work on Monday. For some people the consequences will be far worse. They might not be seeing many more nights, sleepless or otherwise.