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by Mary Mippins
26 January 2009

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Sickness absence gives rise to pandemonium

Ever wondered why you haven’t actually completed your pandemic flu plan? I thought about it briefly the other day during a nanosecond of quiet while on reception, covering yet another absentee who had succumbed to the dreaded lurgy.

Most of the demands for urgent appointments have been from patients expecting an instant cure to their sore throat/”flu”-like symptoms/ongoing cough. They just don’t like it when you:

  • a) Sound worse than they do.
  • b) Tell them to buy something from the chemist and get back to us in a week.
  • c) Tell them it’s viral and no, we won’t give them antibiotics “just in case”.
  • d) Tell them they don’t have breathing difficulties if they can scream obscenities down the phone like that.
  • e) Tell them the kid isn’t ill if it’s running around screaming like a banshee.

I often have pleasant visions of a gigantic plastic sweetie jar in the waiting room, filled with rainbow coloured capsules and a sign above it that says: DON’T BOTHER ASKING – JUST TAKE A HANDFUL AND CLEAR OFF. If only.

Which brings me nicely back to the pandemic flu plan. Our local PCT hasn’t got one. They wanted to see what practices came up with before they came up with theirs. Which in simple terms means someone couldn’t be bothered so thought they’d pick the best of the bunch and copy it thank you very much, circulate it, score brownie points with the strategic health authority and tell us what we already know in a 47-page document filled with helpful hints and tips, such as:

Organise a creche so that fellow workers not struck down can bring their children with them to the workplace.” Mmmm, tempting offer that.

And I am not going to compile a list of staff telephone numbers so that I can ring the part-timers and get them in when someone crashes to the floor, foaming at the mouth – oops, sorry, that’s rabies (I haven’t got a contingency plan for that, either).

Most of my staff are off sick now with viral infections or stress or both, so I don’t think they’re likely to respond well to a friendly phone call such as: “Hi Rita, how are you? Good. Glad to know you’ve survived so far. Look, before the phones go down again – how’s about coming in for some overtime? I know you wanted extra hours and Gladys has just dropped dead, so you can have her job. I know you didn’t get on with her, but hey, every cloud …”

No, I am not going to finish my plan. Yes, I did start one, in a fit of madness, and then realised that I didn’t actually give a monkeys as to how many plastic aprons and disposable facemasks I can fit into a plastic emergency pandemic flu box. Nor am I going to bother ordering gloves, disinfectant by the gallon, emergency supplies of spam, or sterile wipes for the phones.

In fact, knowing the GPs, there won’t be any clinical cover either, so I think we’ll probably just shut up shop and slope off home. Extended hours? Forget it.

Me? I’ll be somewhere out there in the hills. On my own. With a shotgun. Happy New Year.

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“Don’t be a ninny. Buy food … and lots of it because when H5N1 comes to town, there won’t be any in the stores” – Goju, NYC