As I sat down to write about the relationship I have with ‘my GP’ I realised I couldn’t. Last summer I had cause to visit a general practitioner several times, I am asthmatic and although my condition is manageable day-to-day sometimes I need additional care. I saw three different doctors in the space of six weeks. One was a locum covering for holidays the other two were regulars at the surgery.  All were professional, helpful, concerned. But they, like their approaches, were all different and that was just over one short season. Even if we live in the same town all our lives, we no longer expect cradle to the grave care from a GP. This lack of continuity seems to be the main reason why regret runs through almost every page of psychotherapist Jane Haynes’ and medical doctor Martin Scurr’s new book, Doctors Dissected.
Even if we live in the same town all our lives, we no longer expect cradle to the grave care from a GP.
In what Hilary Mantel has described as a ‘provocative insight into bodies and souls’ the pair take a close look at what it means to be a doctor today. Haynes puts generations of doctors, in both the NHS and private sector, on the couch to gain insight into a much-changed world. There is no harking back to a golden era of healthcare but there is a palpable sadness that we are no longer able to develop a meaningful relationship with the “only people other than our lovers to whom we (if unwillingly) grant voluntary access to our bodies and orifices”. Whilst most therapists inhabit a world of uncertainty and it is accepted that they will work together with their clients to pursue an often imperfect sort of enlightenment we expect the opposite of doctors. We want immediate, unwavering diagnoses. We seek immediate and infallible relief from our suffering.And we seldom question of whom we ask such a godlike service. Doctors Dissected goes a long way to answering that as we meet the confident and insecure, the natives and immigrants, gay, straight and bisexual, those from poorer and richer backgrounds, the healthy and those themselves suffering from genetic diseases. All the doctors interviewed seem to have some sort of vocation and express exasperation that those who are not caring or kind still find their way into the profession. What each and every one featured in this fascinating and humane book seem to have in common with (good) therapists is an ability to treat the patient as an individual and to provide them with a space to be heard. Rachel, a GP with twenty years’ experience in the NHS and private care says: “ I so often feel a fraud because all I’ve done is sit and listen. I don’t have any particular skill or emotional trick which I use, I just listen – although I appreciate this is what the patient needs most – for someone to sit and listen to them”. Wouldn’t it be just great if all doctors in GP surgeries, hospitals and other medical institutions in the UK had the inclination, and most importantly, the time, to do just that?