The receptionist fixed me with a withering stare. I had just filled out a repeat prescription form and politely inquired of the girl behind the desk how I would know when it was ready.
She harrumphed and asked where I usually picked my prescriptions up from. I told her the pharmacy on site, you know, the one next door to the surgery, the one just there, in the car park of this building. The one you could see out the window. That one.
She stared at me as though I were explaining that I collected my prescriptions from the international space station.
‘I’ll look it up,’ she said, as though my theory fell so far short of logic it was not worth even considering. ‘Date of birth?’ I don’t know why they don’t just give us a serial number. They could stamp it on our foreheads so they don’t even have to ask. They could reduce communication to nothing by scanning our heads with a hand-held scanner.
‘It says here,’ she said after tapping in my date of birth and coming up with only me, and no other patient with the same birth date, ‘that you pick up your prescriptions from Boots.’
‘Yes, the Boots next door to here.’
She shrugged. I decided to move things on a bit. ‘Will you send me a text when it’s ready… perhaps?’
This suggestion made her look so cross I wish I could have taken it back as I was saying it. But it was too late.
‘Text! We can’t send a text! We’ve got FAR too many patients to start sending them all texts!’
Right, so you’ve got so few patients you can put in someone’s date of birth and there’s only going to be them with that date of birth, but on the other hand you’ve got so many patients you couldn’t possibly text them about their medication.
This was perplexing on a number of fronts. For the past two years that I have been a patient at this surgery, I have had numerous text messages from them. It started with a text message telling me, as my partner, that they were trying to contact me, which was inexplicable in every way and which I resolved only after a lot of arguing and when finally it emerged they had my number down as my emergency contact and the builder boyfriend’s number down as me, the patient, and so, having repeatedly texted him, thinking it was me, about a forthcoming appointment, they then contacted me, thinking it was him. You can imagine how long that took to sort out.
Ever since, at regular intervals, they have texted me reminders about this and that to do with my healthcare needs. Added to that, the NHS centrally pushes leaflets through my door at great expense telling me to get, for example, online cognitive behavioural therapy, and so on.
Oh, and this particular GP surgery also emailed me once to complain about me complaining about them on these pages when I couldn’t get an appointment without a struggle, to which I replied: Thanks for your email. Can I have an appointment?
In other words, they contact me quite a lot when they want to. Therefore, is it not a bit rich to tell me I am being unreasonable to expect them to contact me to tell me the one thing I actually want to know, namely that my prescription is ready? But I couldn’t be bothered to argue. So I told the girl behind the desk: ‘I see, thanks.’ And I made to leave. ‘The pharmacy would be the one to text you, not us,’ she called after me.
It still amazes me. After nearly half a century of the system making it abundantly clear to me that it wishes I would naff off, I ought not to be surprised. But it still strikes me as rum every time it informs me I am a nuisance for trying to use it once or twice a year, for very minor things, after 30-odd years of paying National Insurance contributions.
Having never had children and used the school system, having paid into BUPA until I couldn’t afford it any more, after years and years of asking for absolutely nothing in return for an immeasurable amount of tax, I now find myself in midlife needing HRT. Having paid to go private for the initial diagnosis, I am simply asking the system, finally, pathetically: ‘Please sir, can I have a text to let me know when my prescription is ready?’. The system looks down at me from behind its big, high desk and bellows: ‘A text? A text!’ And if it could throw me in the coal hole until I came to my senses you know it would.