Real life

Our doctor’s surgery is beginning to look like a Category A penitentiary

17 April 2021

9:00 AM

17 April 2021

9:00 AM

When the time came for the nurse to ring me to take my blood pressure, the phone simply didn’t ring. I was at the horses doing fencing so I checked my messages to make sure I hadn’t missed this ground-breaking event. But no, there was no voicemail saying: ‘Hello, this is the nurse calling to take your blood pressure.’

I was extremely disappointed because I had hoped my cynicism was about to be proved unfounded. There did appear to be no way a nurse could take my blood pressure over the phone. But I had sort of hoped there might be. And I think that tiny part of me that was hoping for such a daft thing was the sheep-shaped part of me that wants to trust the NHS like the other happy sheep people, despite evidence to the contrary.

In the end, water didn’t run uphill, the Earth wasn’t flat and the phone call to take my blood pressure didn’t happen. Later that day, the receptionist rang to admit that I had been right to assert she was wrong during our previous conversation about my HRT prescription, when she insisted she had to book me a phone consultation for my annual blood pressure check because the nurse who did the blood pressure testing was working from home.

‘It seems you do have to come in to the surgery,’ the lady said, without a flicker of embarrassment in her voice, which was at least something. I mean, I don’t want the NHS to start apologising or admitting it gets simple things drastically wrong, because that would be frightening.

So I went along with it. She booked me in for a week’s time (and I didn’t complain that this was another week-long delay to getting my medication), saying: ‘Now, when you come in you must wear your mask and come through the main doors and use the hand sanitiser. The outer doors are now open, but the inner doors are locked. There is a keypad and you must ring the bell. The nurse will collect you. If you get any symptoms of Covid between now and then…’

The builder boyfriend, who happened to be listening to this conversation which was on speakerphone, made the following observation when I put the phone down: ‘For a bunch of people who are supposed to deal with illness for a living, they don’t seem to like dealing with illness much do they?’

No. A few days earlier, I had gone to the surgery to collect another prescription from the on-site chemist and had noticed that the double doors to the surgery were firmly closed and covered — I mean covered from head to foot — in forbidding notices. The place appeared to be in total darkness but that might have been because of the bits of paper stuck over every inch of the windows. It looked like a Category A penitentiary. Or a place where mad people lived and had taken to plastering their windows with warnings about various disasters showing that the end of the world was nigh.

Fascinated, I walked up to the doors and started reading the myriad notices. Obviously, they were all about the risk of death from Covid if anyone came any nearer. The risk of death to the people inside, I mean. The best one was the notice about the surgery’s new Covid-compliant opening hours, using the term ‘opening’ loosely.

It was now open for between half an hour a day to one and a half hours, either 7.30 a.m. to 8 a.m., or 6.30 p.m. to 8 p.m, with the exception of Saturday when they were open for a devastating four hours, 8 a.m. until midday. A big yellow notice listed the rules: ‘Only one person at a time in the lobby. Do not arrive early. Please bring only essential items. Please come unaccompanied. Please wear a face covering. Do not enter the lobby if you have a headache, fever, cough…’, etc.

These words were replicated underneath on a big white notice with jagged edges as if ripped furiously from a pad of paper and slammed on with uneven strips of sticking tape because people were refusing to see the first one. There was a further notice in big red letters next to that saying, again: ‘Only 1 person in the lobby at a time please.’

If it were me, and I were that frightened, I would just tape up a sign saying: ‘Closed Forever! Go Away!’

Having said all that, I was now looking forward to an appointment at 3.50 one midweek afternoon. Perhaps there are the advertised ‘opening’ hours for the impertinent sods who dare to wander up to the doors willy-nilly, without security clearance, and then there are the special, secret opening hours for the patients who are having their blood pressure taken by a nurse who is working from home.

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