It was approaching 4pm and the end of a long day at HFMA West Midlands. Delegates and hosts were starting to tire and as I sat down for the last talk of the day I had no idea what to expect. It was brilliant... a full hour of compelling listening and laughter by comedian and GP, Dr Phil Hammond. Dr Hammond had the audience in the palm of his hand - he juggles life-and-death issues with the kind of naughty but nice A&E anecdotes that have kept many an over-worked junior doctor sane down the years.
But, with all the humour, there were quite a few important points made and Dr Phil's diagnosis brought a more serious note with it. It was clear he had both a passion for the NHS and strong views about how it was being failed - billions being ill-spent and much-needed money not going where it should be. Dr Hammond preceded to drop the Health & Social Care bill on the stage. He continued;
"...the biggest failing of the Health and Social Care Bill is that it's unreadable. At 353 pages it's bigger than the Bill that founded the NHS. By page 19, I'd given up the will to live. It's an impossibly complex mix of regulations, substitutions and amendments. No GP can possibly digest them, and for us to take control of rationing the NHS is a huge leap of faith. It's like being handed the steering wheel of a runaway coach as it plummets over the cliff. Oh, and here's the instruction manual. In German."
Dr Hammond believes that the key to saving the NHS is to keep a client centered approach and ensure we sit down and share ideas and experiences. He states, "It's pointless 'giving patients a voice' if they don't know how to be heard". He further states that "What the NHS needs more than anything is to rediscover its humanity". Collaboration and stability are key and staff and patients need to work together to achieve this. He gave some valuable advice about how patients should be questioning healthcare professionals more when they receive treatment, so they had a better understanding of what was going on and to ensure they were getting the right level of care.
There was a strange feeling leaving the talk - on the one hand, it had been a thoroughly entertaining rollercoaster evening of raucous laughter, but on the other, you felt sad that, ironically, the health service wasn't getting the proper treatment it deserved.
I personally cannot wait to see Dr Hammond on stage again. As quoted by Clive Davis;
"If Hammond were a medicine, he would be worth swigging by the litre." - Clive Davis, The Times 24/1/12.
Dr Phil Hammond is a GP, writer, broadcaster and the only comedian to appear at a public inquiry. He is Private Eye's medical correspondent and broke the story of the Bristol heart scandal in 1992, which lead to the largest public inquiry in British history seven years later. He has appeared as a contestant on Have I Got News For You (seven times), The News Quiz and The Now Show. He has had five sell-out shows at the Edinburgh Fringe and won Writers' Guild and Silver Sony Awards when the show transformed into a Radio 4 series. He has now sold out a number of highly successful UK tours including his most recent, 60-date tour, 89 Minutes to Save the NHS.