Dr Phil Hammond, GP and broadcaster

The awards season is upon us - last month I compered the Drug Rep of the Year; this month Iêve done the best GP, best consultant, best drug, best practice manager and best NHS manager (yes, apparently there is one).

In the past, Iêve overseen best optician, best dentist and even best over-the-counter remedy (I try not to boast about the last one). What is there left? Best receptionist with a moustache? Best fish in waiting room?

An old cynic like me could easily suffer from awards fatigue. But my scepticism is invariably defeated by the large cheque Iêm given for my services and the sheer joy on the faces of the winners. In an NHS built on workaholism and ritual abuse hurled from all angles, itês genuinely inspiring to see people acknowledged and rewarded for triumphing over such adversity.

Eleven years ago, when I first became involved in awards, consultants were almost embarrassed to be nominated. Indeed, when I suggested to my boss at the time, an inspirational casualty consultant, that I put his name forward he smiled through gritted teeth and said Iêd never work in the South West again.

The culture was one of self-flagellation, and being singled out for public recognition was about as popular as smallpox. The very secretive merit awards were much more acceptable - but you had to be white, male and in a macho job to get one.

But the Tories changed all that. The introduction of competition, market forces and the threat of closure of surplus hospitals suddenly made public recognition essential.

In London, where widespread closures were mooted, consultants and managers suddenly became very keen on any sort of award that would give the hospital more political clout. –You canêt close us down, weêve got the Oncology Team of the Year."

Politicians saw awards ceremonies as opportunities to try to praise doctors while simultaneously wittering on about their untried and untested reforms that would save the NHS (but invariably didnêt).

From Waldegrave and Bottomley onwards, Iêve sat through them all. But this year has been different - the politicians have stayed away. New Labour are either sulking at the rejection of their consultantsê contract or just didnêt want to face the flak.

Without the political interference, the awards ceremonies have been much jollier affairs. We could all bitch about the state of the NHS while rewarding those who are too busy getting on with the job to whinge.

One winner was a GP who had abandoned the comfort and security of a settled rural practice to open a surgery in a deprived urban area. In two years, heês built up an excellent all round service, with drop in services for teenagers, clinics for minor illness, diabetes, asthma and heart disease. And all on a pittance.

Surveying all the worthy winners over the years, it is pretty clear that the medical profession has enough expertise, commitment and innovation to work with other front line staff and run the NHS without the need for incessant political meddling and a manager for every bed. We can but dream.

Dr Phil is on UK tour this Autumn with 89 minutes to save the NHS. Details at www.karushi.com

Guidelines in Practice, December 2002, Volume 5(12)
© 2002 MGP Ltd
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