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The doctor will see you ALL now: GPs across England urging long-term ill to attend group sessions of up to 15 patients

Have NHS officials finally lost the plot? That’s the only explanation I can think of for the latest hare-brained scheme proposed by NHS England which will see patients with the same chronic illnesses attending group consultations with a GP.

It’s yet another example of how out of step the NHS apparatchiks who dream up these ideas up really are with doctors and especially with patients.

Of course, the NHS faces incredible challenges. Medical advances, an ageing population, immigration and increasing expectations about what the health service can provide have led to unprecedented pressure. As a nation we need a serious debate about what we can afford, and what we are willing to pay for.

But treating patients like cattle, herding them en masse into a surgery, does not represent a solution to any of the problems. Most patients will feel intimidated. They will worry about looking stupid in front of others. They certainly won’t want to talk about embarrassing things.

It is simply unacceptable to lump patients together based on a shared pathology. Indeed, it is the antithesis of modern medicine whereby we are encouraged to see patients as unique individuals.

And it’s an insult to them to think that, just because you happen to have the same illness as someone else, you’re going to share the same ideas, expectations and concerns as them.

Consultations are a precious opportunity to speak openly and honestly about what really matters to you. Communication will be reduced to little more than a seminar because anything else will raise serious issues of confidentiality.

According to reports from a nurse in Manchester, where the scheme has been piloted, some patients in these group appointments have been chipping in with their own ‘advice’ – telling others to ‘pull your socks up’ or ‘get a life’. Vulnerable individuals will be in a situation where they can be bullied, given inappropriate advice or feel they are being judged.

This is the opposite of what you should expect when seeing a doctor.

I have no doubt that it will be expanded and further reduce any chance of seeing a doctor individually. It’s hard enough already. What about patients who refuse to a group appointment? Will they be seen on their own? This would set up a deeply unfair, two-tier system.

We must not forget those people, especially the elderly, who might feel obliged to accept group consultations even if it makes them uncomfortable.

And it’s inevitable that other aspects of patients’ health will be missed or not explored properly.

Why are we trying to re-invent the wheel? The one-on-one encounter between doctor and patient has stood the test of time and we mess with it at our peril.

Take the initiative to get more people seeing their doctor online or by phone. It was hailed as efficient and cost-effective, but research shows it increases GP workload because many patients have to be seen and examined in person anyway.

There are some situations where group sessions with a doctor do work. A few years ago I ran a support group for patients with bipolar, where we met weekly to discuss their experiences. The benefit of a doctor was that I could give a medical insight as well as education.

But it never replaced one-to-one appointments – it was simply an addition. The practice of medicine relies on human interaction. This ridiculous initiative serves only to diminish and undermine it.

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