Women’s health, and the treatment we receive from the medical profession are very much feminist issues, so I make no apology for banging on about it, yet again.

Even though I vowed on this blog back in March that I wouldn’t be consulting a particular GP at my local medical practice again, just a week after I’d typed those words I found myself back in his consulting room. I’d phoned the surgery for some blood test results (I had blood taken at the same time I had my smear), and I’d been told by the receptionist that I needed to come in and talk to the doctor about them.

While I was there I thought it would be an opportune moment to have a discussion with the GP about fibroids, and the different treatment options that would be available to me once I’d had the scan and had the practice nurse’s diagnosis confirmed. So I’d written down some questions, and was all prepared for an informed and informative ten minutes.

But the consultation didn’t go well, and a few days later I submitted a written complaint to both the practice manager and the local NHS Complaints team.

The crux of my complaint was the doctor was patronising, dismissive, and unwilling to engage with me. He basically told me that if I had fibroids, I could wait for my menopause (potentially 10 more years!) to sort it all out. He wasn’t interested in discussing any symptoms I was experiencing, such as pain or bleeding like a stuck pig every 26 -28 days, appeared to make no connection between any of that and the fact that I’ve been quite seriously anaemic for the last fuck knows how many years (to the extent that I had a blood transfusion for it back in 2002, and it was the reason I’d been called in to discuss my blood test results), and appeared to regard me as just another middle aged woman with “women’s problems”, instead of an individual patient with the right to both have my concerns listened to and to be treated with respect.

I also mentioned in the letter my concern that the surgery no longer has any female GPs.

So anyway, despite the fact that the letter was addressed to the practice manager, the GP decided to respond to me himself:

Thank you for your letter expressing your concerns. I am sorry that you felt that I did not take your worries seriously. I certainly understood you had questions about your treatment options for fibroids. However what I attempted to explain to you was that it was impossible at this stage to have any meaningful and informative discussion at all about fibroids, how it may be affecting you and your treatment options when it is not yet proven whether you do have fibroids and whether in fact fibroids specifically are causing you any problems. Any discussion would be so far ranging and full of conditional statements as to be meaningless. I simply confined what I said to what I hoped would be generally reassuring, i.e. it is pretty unlikely that you would need to see a gynaecologist to help deal with any symptoms your fibroids may be causing and the up to date management of fibroids is to try and leave well alone until your natural menopause when if they were causing problems before cease to be an issue. I am sorry that you felt that my inertia to getting drawn into any more detailed discussion at this stage was trivializing your concerns.

If I may I would like to answer your more general criticism that we do not have any female doctors in this Practice. The NHS is committed to equality and diversity and this Practice has always adhered to these principles. Every member of staff is appointed on their own individual merit regardless of race, religious belief or culture or indeed gender and sexual orientation. The consequence of this is that our previous female doctors have been replaced with a male. May be next time there will be a female doctor but we should not choose a second best candidate for the job with the sole intention of recruiting a woman. We do have two excellent female Nurse Practitioners who are experienced clinicians, able to prescribe from an extensive formulary and manage their own case load.


Where to even begin with this!

How about:

Dear doc

If you had at any time asked me during the consultation what symptoms I was currently experiencing, or what symptoms I had been suffering for a considerable period of time, your explanations may have been vaguely credible.  You did not ask me any questions, you merely minimised and trivialised my questions and concerns.  You may feel any discussions would have been meaningless, to me they would not.  In my questions I sought authoritative information from a qualified medical practitioner.  I did not seek reassurance from you.  None of my questions began with “please reassure me that …”

Oh and by the way, you might want to look at the Gender Equality Duty (especially the bit about gathering info on how your policies and practices affect gender equality in the delivery of services), and the new Equality bill (pssst, where it mentions positive action) …….

I’ve written back  today making exactly those points but without the sarcasm, and I’m hoping that’s the end of it now. I don’t intend seeing the GP again, and I don’t intend pursuing things any further.

But I was interested to see this report in today’s Guardian, about how long drawn out disciplinary investigations against family doctors are currently costing primary care trusts upwards of £8.2 million. In the last 3 years alone apparently some 134 GPs have been suspended (and no, I don’t think my complaint is grounds for suspending anyone – that’s not what I was after at all) although “Professor Steve Field, the chairman of the Royal College of General Practitioners, said only a handful of the UK’s 45,000 family doctors had faced serious allegations:

“GPs’ performance isn’t getting worse and public satisfaction remains high. The number of GPs who are poorly performing on clinical grounds is tiny.”

Hmmmm, I’m not convinced……