In his book “A Fortunate Man”, John Berger says of the GP John Sassall:
He does more than treat them when they are ill, he is the objective witness of their lives. They seldom refer to him as a witness. They only think of him when some practical circumstance brings them together. He is in no way a final arbiter. That is why I chose the rather humble word clerk: the clerk of their records.
Some may now assume that he has taken over the role of the parish priest or vicar. Yet this is not so. He is not the representative of an all-knowing, all-powerful being. He is their own representative. His records will never be offered to any higher judge. He keeps the records so that, from time to time, they can consult them themselves. The most frequent opening to a conversation with him, if it is not a professional consultation, are the words “Do you remember when...”
I think something like that was going on this morning. The patient's husband wanted recognition of the difficulties he was going through, not just from a fellow human being but from the “clerk of the records”: one of the doctors in the practice he and his wife have been attending for many years. No particular skill was required of me, except to recognise that listening was important at that moment. Anyone could have done it, provided of course that they had worked in this particular practice for a decade or so. I was pleased to realise that this is one way in which I am still performing some of the functions that Sassall did, despite no longer working out-of-hours and being endlessly distracted by biochemical minutiae and data collection.
And the Government think that general practice can be done by an ever changing roster of anonymous doctors, armed with computerised records.