No-one benefits from a macho doctor or politician

Dr Peter Moore

Dr Peter Moore - Credit: Archant

A few years ago I was talking to a fellow GP who had suffered from Ramsey Hunt Syndrome; a particularly unpleasant form of shingles which paralyses half the face. He made a full recovery but his experiences made me reflect on my own attitude to illness. Doctors are usually terrible patients.

His initial response to feeling awful and half his face becoming paralysed was to ignore it and carry on. 'I'm a doctor; I can hack it'. Eventually he saw his own GP, who was helpful but treated him as a colleague not a patient. 'How do you feel about the latest evidence on the use of antiviral treatments on herpes zoster?'

In hindsight, he needed an old-fashioned dictatorial GP. 'Don't be an idiot. Get off work and take these tablets'. He was not able to analyse research and make intelligent decisions.

His colleagues in the practice meant well and tried to be supportive but even here the 'macho – I can hack it' attitude came through.

'Take off as long as you need. It's your health that's important. By the way I didn't get home until gone ten last night as I was seeing all your patients. But, don't worry, it's ok. I'm used to working long hours.'

An ill doctor 'keeping calm and carrying on' may think they are helping patients it does not help anyone if the doctor is unwell and not able to make complicated decisions.

And the same argument applies to politicians.

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When Boris Johnson was intensive care Dominic Raab was asked when he last spoke to the Prime Minister.

The press seemed concerned that he had not been in touch for several days.

We were reassured that the Prime Minister was still in charge. But should he have been?

Would we expect any other worker who was in intensive care to still be on top of his brief?

My response to the question 'have you been in touch with the Prime Minister' was 'I bloody well hope not. The poor man's ill'.

The health of our leaders is an important and often overlooked problem. There needs to be a definite plan if there is a serious illness but how about when the leaders are just 'under par'?

When Edward Heath was Prime Minster in the 1970s several of his MPs who were also doctors spotted the signs of an underactive thyroid gland. He was slowing down, putting on weight and generally not well.

When diagnosed it is easy to treat but, in the meantime was it affecting his decision making?

The doctor MPs decided that the best person to bring up their concerns was the ex-GP and so he was sent to talk to the chief whip.

He was welcomed into the whip's office but the moment he brought up the subject of the Prime Minister's health he was shown the door. This was a taboo subject.

When President Ronald Regan in the United States developed Alzheimer's disease the head of the CIA, William Casey, developed a brain tumour and died in 1987.

Two of the most powerful men in the world both had brain diseases at the same time; diseases which could affect decision making.

And this year, whoever wins the election, the next president will be in his 70s. In this country anyone over 70 cannot continue as a magistrate.

The only good news is that I can feel young again with a US President younger than me.

As we see the politicians and the NHS staff struggling to make the right decisions during this terrible pandemic we must ask the question who is looking after you?

No-one is indispensible. Good leadership also means admitting when you are not well enough to make good decisions and handing over when needed.

No-one benefits from a macho doctor or politician.