Thursday, 22 April 2010

The Volcano Effect

A New Kind of GP has spoken already about the bizarre events of last week and the questions that they have provoked. Did the government overreact? (...did someone mention swine flu?...) Are the airlines more interested in wealth than welfare? Can we be sure that it is safe to fly now? No doubt we will continue to debate these questions for many days to come. But there is another question that the now infamous Icelandic Volcano has raised in my surgery, and that is this; how far should we trust our patients?

It's not an obvious follow on from the problems of spewed lava and ash, I realise, but let me explain why this dilemma has arisen. My practice is in central London, surrounded by hotels. Given their unexpected holiday extension, foreign travellers have been drifting in in their masses, requesting extra medications. In amongst the hayfever pills, tablets for prostate trouble and antihypertensives, I have also prescribed hypnotics and antidepressants to patients I have never met before and am unlikely to see again. Is this OK? Would the GMC approve?

It's not actually just mid natural disaster that this predicament shows itself. How often do we have patients requesting repeat medications because they have lost their last prescription, or left their pills in Malaga? Other more bizarre stories I have heard are; "The dog ate them", "Someone stole them", "I fed them to the pigeons" (yes, I made that one up, but I wouldn't be surprised). Clearly how worried I get does depend enormously on what I am being asked for, but if it's anything that could be dangerous in overdose (most things) or could be sold down a dark alleyway, I do start getting a little nervous. Unfortunately challenging the patient rarely seems like great option either, since you still may not get the truth and you risk a breakdown in your relationship, something which no GP takes lightly.

So what's the answer I wonder? Is it safe to dish out pills to whoever pops in requesting some? Is it reasonable to give extra medication to a patient based on your gut feeling of their credibility?

Are any more Icelandic volcanos likely to erupt?


  1. I got "my toddler threw it out of the pram" today.

    For oxynorm.


    Needless to say that was a tense conversation.

  2. I really do hope that this was made up, as I'm really not sure a toddler is the best of people to look after oxynorm....

  3. Nope it's all true. Sadly.

    That patient was gently informed that I would not be writing another script.

    Oh and maybe he shouldn't be giving his NARCOTIC SCRIPTS to his 2 year old to hold.

    -Aussie GP