A Medical Doctor’s Life

While attending a breakdown the other day (yes, I still do five or six hundred a year!) the customer happened to be my doctor’s wife who was enjoying a self-inflicted flat battery. As the bonnet went down and I was about to leave the scene, who should turn up but my GP. Not only has he served me for 40 years as a family doctor but we have enjoyed a great friendship attending many motor racing events together. He then gave me the bad news: “I am retiring in four weeks’ time.”

Knowing he has not reached the magic figure of 65 years of age I asked him: “Why?” He then proceeded to fill my head with all the things that I detest about our industry. He went on to say that he is absolutely fed up with bureaucracy. He just wants to go to work, to see as many patients as possible, dish out a few tablets, stick a few needles in a few backsides and keep as many people as possible in good health in our neighbourhood. And as far as I know he has not killed anybody or made anybody any worse than they were or I would have read about it in the local newspapers.

But sadly he claims his time is taken up with everything that is not seeing to patients. To repeat everything he said would just bore people to tears. But I do think that all I want to do is drive from car to car putting faults right and that is all my staff want to do, and they are happy to keep their vehicles fit and fresh in the meantime.

We finish up in our industry with far too many reams of paper and boxes of records and far too much time is spent not delivering the service. Like my doctor said, service is perceived at the absolute point of delivery. When I attach jump leads to a car and start the engine that customer is then and only then, receiving a service and that is all that I care about and it is all my doctor really wanted to do: bend somebody over, stick a needle in them and make them well again. He did not want them waiting three days for an appointment just as we do not like people waiting an hour and a half.

I worked out years ago that it takes about three minutes to complete the paperwork at a breakdown (which is not actually necessary). On a busy day in the winter my drivers would do perhaps 17 or 20 jobs, that is if they do not spend the one hour doing paperwork, otherwise it is 15 or 17 jobs. Times that by 8 trucks working and 16 jobs could be lost in a day. In reality, of course, like everyone else we might only get 5 or 6 days like that each winter although last year we had a couple of dozen.

I then started to look at the way society has rolled on from when I was a youth or even an apprentice. I can’t turn the clock back so I can’t go and have a better look at it, but it appears obvious that people were paid for doing proper jobs and nonentity jobs did not seem to exist, not even in the Public Sector. If you take a service bus, for example, it used to run on time and was crewed by a driver and a “clippie” (conductor). The cost of travelling on the bus was pro-rata probably cheaper than it is today and yet that vehicle was double-crewed, ran efficiently and somehow or other made the company a profit. Whereas today that same bus will be single-crewed, never run on time and probably costs that equivalent of more money to travel on.

How have we finished up in this situation? I suspect that there are now many more back room workers planning and operating the buses and less people actually doing the job and dealing with the customers. I have said before that I believe that for every nurse or doctor in a hospital there is one other “hanger-on”, and there is certainly a lot more hangers-on in our industry than there were 40 years ago. A lot of problems stem from the health and safety culture but sometimes that can be seen to be cutting its cloth to suit.

How come, when we had the Foot and Mouth disease it was safe to drive a truck all hours of the day as the tachograph regulations were relaxed. I am not saying for one second that we should not have tachograph regulations but if this situation with the Foot and Mouth is OK, why can’t an ordinary person just drive a couple of extra hours now and again to finish his journey.

Going back to the start, of course my GP will hang up his stethoscope, get into his 7-Series BMW and drive off into the autumn sunset, knowing that his Government set pension will keep him in the manner to which he is accustomed for the rest of his life. We, most of us, in the Private Sector will not have the benefit of such free luxury. It really is time that the balance was readjusted. Roll on October and let us hope this Government is as good as its word: otherwise my vote will go to the BNP!

Fred Henderson,
Breakdown Doctor.