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A truly excellent experience
posted: Saturday June 20, 2009

It's a real pleasure to sit down and write a short piece highlighting one of those occasions when the NHS gets it right.

As a chronic asthmatic, but thankfully not often subject to acute episodes, I have always worked closely with my GP to keep my asthma under control. Over many years we have now got to the stage where I am able largely to self-medicate. I have an excellent feeling for the state of my breathing and try to keep my cocktail of medications as low as possible. Normally I manage to do this fairly well.

Unfortunately, on odd occasions I do get caught out by a bad cold or other respiratory infection and can lose control of my asthma. When this happens I see my GP who will normally prescribe a course of systemic steroids and, if the infection is really causing me problems, an antibiotic to clear it up.

A couple of days ago I fell foul of a nasty summer cold/sore throat bug that hit hard. Within 24 hours I could feel my asthma was starting to get out of control.

I went straight to stage one of our strategy, doubling on the steroid puffer and being a bit more generous with the ventolin - to no avail. Next came the bigger guns, the emergency course of systemic steroids. I always keep a course in the house but hate to use them - but this felt bad and I knew they were needed.

24 hours later things were even worse and I was coughing up a lot of nasty gunk and had other symptoms that almost certainly indicated a severe (for me anyway) chest infection. Antibiotics were clearly called for but I had none and by now it was Saturday and the surgery was closed. Waiting until Monday was not an option, nor was trip to A&E because I was coughing too badly to drive anyway.

Here in rural North Devon we have an excellent out-of-hours GP service called TarkaDoc. I phoned and they replied after a single ring. It took about a minute to take my details (name, DOB, postcode, symptoms) and identify me and they promised to get a doctor to ring back within the hour. Fifteen minutes later the phone rang. The doctor asked about my symptoms and history and wanted to know if I was coughing up any blood (no). He asked me which antibiotic I normally used, confirmed it was a good option, gave instructions to take a double first dose, and said my local pharmacy would have the prescription faxed to them within half an hour.

Thirty-five minutes later my wife plonked the antibiotics in my hand.

If you are waiting gleefully for an 'out of left field' negative comment here I am going to disappoint you. The whole episode was a textbook example of joined-up healthcare. Everyone involved was efficient and polite (often mutually exclusive skills). Asthma aside, it was a real pleasure to deal with this service.

Credit where credit is due - thanks guys.


I've always believed that the NHS is not beyond redemption and has always had the ability to deliver fantastic service, quietly and efficiently - here's a great example.

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