Health Anxiety

In a googletastic time, anxiety about one’s health can be increasingly difficult to support as a GP. The journey as a doctor to understand that the patient is presenting due to their health anxiety, can be a drawn out and difficult one. It can probably only happen well with continuity of care, confidence and a good relationship with the patient. There are many pitfalls along the way.

Here is this month’s clinical instalment available for your thoughts, comments and reflection. See what you would do….

Samantha is 34 years old and a single mother. She has a past medical history of a meningioma that was completely excised 15 years ago. She has been discharged by her neurosurgery team. Two years ago, she presented with recurring headaches. She was seen by a specialist neurologist, had brain imaging, and was reassured that her headaches were tension type headaches and not a recurrence of her tumour. She subsequently asked for a second opinion and was seen by another neurologist who repeated all her tests and came to the same conclusion.

She has always attended the GP surgery frequently, but over recent months has been making appointments every week about her headaches and calling the surgery asking to speak to a GP in between. She is convinced that she has a recurrence of her ‘cancer’.  She is also making frequent appointments for her son, who is well and has no persistent symptoms or abnormal examination findings, and demanding that he is referred for specialist investigation to make sure that he ‘doesn’t have anything nasty’.

father comforting son in tears

Suggested points for discussion

  • How might you manage this lady’s headaches?
  • How might you manage her health-related anxiety?
  • Is her anxiety about her son a safeguarding issue?  If so, how might you manage that?



Clinical Scenario Forums

You may remember a previous blog letting you know about the new Clinical Scenario forums available on the RCGP  Learning site in conjunction with

These are now up and running with lots of scenarios to consider how you would handle them. If you have a login you can comment too. It is useful to consider different options of how to manage a situation and these are discussed in the comments below each scenario which can all be used as CPD for your eportfolio.

This month’s, shown below, is around overuse of medication. My thoughts on reading it, was relief that I (hypothetically) recalled the patient and having issued the medication – it didn’t just get buried in amongst the many others. Depending on how well I knew the patient I would either give her a quick call or reject the request asking for more information as to why she needed it, but also copy it into the journal notes that this had happened so that if anyone else received a request they would know. But what do you think? Am I being too keen? Should it be a simple reject and the onus is on the patient to get back in touch? Or perhaps, as it is the first real extra request just send it on? Do comment on the site, or tweet us.

Overuse of medication

While reviewing a batch of prescription queries in the Electronic Prescribing System, you come across a request for a month’s supply of 40 mg citalopram tablets. It is for a woman who you saw last week and it strikes you as odd as you recall issuing her with some medication then. The prescription is not on repeat and so is not flagging as being overused but the date of the last prescription issued is just a week ago.

You check back in her notes and find that she had her usual prescription a month ago, another from you a week ago as she said she needed them early as she was going on holiday. Therefore this is the third request in a month for antidepressant medication.

Suggested points for discussion

  • What would you do in this situation?
  • What safeguards can be put in place to prevent patients at risk of suicide from making extra prescription requests to stockpile medication?


Could you be an Learning Disabilities Clinical Lead?

One of the changes in the recently released GP contract was an increased recognition of Learning disabilities (LD). The directly enhanced service requires an annual health check for all on the LD register and there is now a higher payment for available for this (of £140).

In our next issue, and already available OnlineFirst there is a comprehensive article about health promotion and screening for people with LD or the interchangeable term ‘Intellectual disability’. The latter is used to differentiate more clearly from learning difficulties such as dyspraxia or dyslexia.

Equity to healthcare and screening is a huge issue and we can start to improve this in our surgeries. The article by Drs Awan and Chauhan, describes the very practical Top Tips for Effective Consultations, a simple explanation on assessing capacity and how to manage when there is a lack of capacity for a decision.

Has your practice already got an LD lead? If not, this may be a great place to gain experience – and tick those leadership PIP boxes – this article will get you started.


What is CBT and How to Use it & Understanding Childhood Depression.

Cognitive behavioural therapy is a well used term but are you comfortable with what it actually entails? Can you describe it to patients (compared with other counselling methods) or even use some of the strategies in your consultations? If you are able to, it can be particularly helpful, especially when waiting times are long allowing you to further support a patient in the meantime. A GP and clinical Psychologist have teamed up to write this article which offers good techniques to use within a 10 minute consultation. Below is the Core Principal of CBT which is really helpful to explain how CBT works to patients.
A situation where knowledge of CBT techniques can be helpful is in childhood depression. This is an easily missed and highly anxiety provoking presentation for many trainees and GPs. It is the most common psychiatric disorder in children and adolescents. Ensuring you take a good risk assessment, establishing a support plan as well as having a good range of third sector or online support are crucial. Fluoxetine is the SSRI of choice if the young people have not responded to psychological therapies. The article by Dr Mills and Dr Baker describes the primary care assessment, diagnosis and management of this condition.

CPD Catch Up

If you’re like me, there’s been too much going on over the Festive period to focus on CPD and e-portfolio. Hopefully this blog will give you some pointers to get back on track!

If you are preparing for the CSA or planning to start soon, don’t miss the short CSA series which started in the December issue. The first article discusses the format of the exam and is followed by Ten Top Tips for the CSA. The second article in the January issue covers the application process and how best to prepare. Good Luck!!

Another useful topic for both VTS and those of you preparing for appraisals, is the article on ‘How to Make Quality Improvement simple’. With regards to appraisals there is no requirement to have an audit anymore, but we have to evidence our quality improvement contributions. This article is a fantastic walk through how best to tackle this.

On a clinical note, Pelvic prolapse is an extremely common problem which can have a profound impact on quality of life. There is a great deal we should be offering in primary care for diagnosis and management. The article in the December issue is a really useful summary alongside what can also be offered in secondary care.

If you have anything related to diabetes listed in your PDP, the November issue is the one for you. There are three great articles. The first on Diabetes in Pregnancy, then an interesting discussion of Foot Sepsis and finally regarding the Cardiovascular Complications of Diabetes.

Finally, I was given a book for Christmas from a good friend about Finding Joy, the main premise being that we have to note the happy things which happen and not just look at the negatives. It struck a chord with me as I fear I might be prone to discussing those things which irritate way before the good things in my day. It seems these authors are not alone with this theory. In the November ‘From the AiT Committee‘ article by the fab @DuncanShrew, he talks about how ending his day explaining what he had enjoyed to the student with him, turned him from feeling slightly stressed to feeling pleased and positive. I think this is something to try to hold on to as much as we can. Especially with the increased criticism and pressure being placed on GPs over the last couple of days, it is as crucial as ever to make a point of noticing the positives for us as an individual. It won’t fix everything, but it might help with the day-to-day.


Career + Parenting = Guilt

I remember my mother telling me that being a parent involves a lot of guilt, whether it’s not breast feeding for long enough (if at all), not going to the right groups, or, as they get older, not going on such wonderful holidays as other children. Well I can add to all of that. The guilt of also having a career.
I read one of the popular parenting books a few years ago and within the first couple of chapters it became clear that the author felt very strongly that children shouldn’t be in childcare before the age of 4. Huge waves of guilt ensued. My eldest then was only 3 and already I had completely failed him?!
I was ambitious throughout school and university and enjoyed doing the extra bits and pieces where I could. I started my VTS and went on to have 3 children in quick succession. Suddenly I realised I didn’t have the time (or energy) to be quite so keen. I welcomed into my life this new world of Guilt and felt attacked by it on all sides. I was now unable to do those extra audits, CPD sessions or organising (let alone attending) the social nights out.
There was the heavy guilt of dropping the children at nursery at crazy o’clock knowing that they would probably be the last ones to be collected at the end of the day. There was also the mad dash to get there before nursery closed – an extra dollop of guilt towards work colleagues who were still there as I rushed off.
Don’t get me wrong; I can clearly remember the joy of eating my lunch in the canteen undisturbed when I went back to work after number one. There is also some freedom in having another purpose to who I am, earning my own money and being able to walk around unattached to an infant – but then there is the guilt for feeling like that too.
I have found that the children starting school has helped with the guilt slightly.  It isn’t my fault that they have to be at school – I have the law to support me here, (as I have explained to the children vociferously). Although some other mothers have scuppered this by becoming teaching assistants at the school, so even this small bit of support waivers. ‘Mummy, why can’t you be a teacher?’ Well, darling, hmm…..during the summer holidays I think they may have a point.
But this is exactly where being a locum GP can come into its own – due to one word – flexibility. I can fit work around life, not the other way round. When at work, I work hard, I do my best for the patients, I keep up to date, but if one week I want to go to sports day – I can, without the guilt of asking colleagues to swap. Most days, I can start my sessions after school drop off and finish so that I can be back at the school gates at pick up. This has really helped with another portion of guilt – this time towards my husband.  As he works full time too, expecting him to fit in school runs takes a toll on him just as much as me.
As the children get older, I fear the guilt doesn’t stop. The days of tearful nursery drop offs (me mainly) may be gone, but I am sure there will be lots of new ways in which I can let my children down, and never be as committed or quite as involved as I aspire to be at work. I am told the feeling of never doing anything 100% doesn’t leave, but I hope I am getting better at managing it.
Currently I am having a dilemma whether to go to a meeting which I really ought to attend or to make it to collect my children on time from school….probably best to stop writing now so I can let all that guilt set in for whichever I choose not to do.
This article was first published on

Catch Up Treats

In case you haven’t had a chance to look inside your Great Green Magazine from last month, here are some sneaky treats.

There is a helpful article outlining the essential info about Postmenopausal bleeding and Endometrial Cancer. One of my learning points was that any significant bleeding change in a woman over 40, should also be considered at a similar risk for referral, alongside other risk factors such as obesity or PCOS. I also hadn’t appreciated the increased risk from tamoxifen use and it was useful to read about strategies for prevention of endometrial cancer.

The next article is on Testicular cancer with a really simple, handy guide for how to differentiate the types of scrotal swellings. Did you know that being taller is a risk factor for testicular cancer?

If you are starting to prepare for your AKT it would be worth reading the short summary of where to begin by Virginia Head who is an ST3.

It’s that time of year again when antibiotic requests are ever present – unless that is, you have a very well-trained patient group! I have tried hard to search through the evidence base that’s out there so I can confidently justify why I am not issuing them. We have had several great AKT questions on this subject in InnovAiT. I also came across this summary table of infection guidance for primary care, endorsed by the RCGP, which includes details of clinical criteria. Having your local CCG guidance to hand is also helpful.

As a trainee it can be tricky if the GPs in your practice have different prescribing habits. However, it can be really constructive to discuss these with your trainer so that you feel comfortable in what you are prescribing.




Be who you want to be: GP+ Travel Medic

For this edition we are very lucky to have guest blogger Claire Davies tell us about her amazing career path, Claire usually writes for the Network Locum blog. Thank you Claire!

These days, the demands of clinical practice have never been greater.  Many GPs go home on Friday night to lick their emotional wounds inflicted by workload intensity, unfriendly political fire and the odd grenade thrown in by the media.  For many, working as a portfolio GP is not just a life raft but also a career enhancer.  With the new trend for doctors to find alternative roles outside of clinical practice, the opportunities have never been greater.  

But where to begin?  Do you look and see what’s available or should you try and make something more tailored to you?

My portfolio career in travel and tropical medicine seemed to grow by accident at the time but looking back, it was subconsciously by design.  As a starting point, I knew what I was passionate about.  I believe that, if we define and articulate what we want, opportunities tend to gravitate towards us.  It began in Uganda when I was a medical officer on an expedition for Raleigh International.  While supervising volunteers building a medical centre in a remote mountain village, it struck me that, the nearest doctor was still four hours walk away and that perhaps I could do something more worthwhile.

Three years later I did the diploma in tropical medicine at The London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine – an excellent course with inspiring speakers, one of whom, Professor Eldryd Parry, arranged for me to spend a year in Ethiopia working in a chronic disease management programme.  I also did a 3 month stint with the WHO as polio eradication volunteer in India.  

Returning from Ethiopia, I reached an impasse.  Using the Medical Forum career review, I eventually decided that being a GP would allow me to continue being a clinician while giving me the option to maintain my other interests – as well as pursuing my other passion for writing.

I was surprised how much I enjoyed general practice and remained contented for a good number of years as a salaried GP.  A challenge to drive across the Sahara in a car bought for less than £100 rekindled my travelling interests.  Within a few months of returning, I had found a job working 2 sessions a week at InterHealth Worldwide, a travel medicine clinic offering face to face and remote services to the humanitarian aid and mission community.  Feeling part of the effort during global crises such as the Haiti earthquake was addictive.    The demands of the field were high for our patients and I dealt with malaria, the whole gamut of psychological problems and even gave medical advice on hostage situations. Eventually I was promoted to leader of the medical team and the role also took me to Kenya where I helped set up Nairobi’s first travel medicine clinic tailored to the humanitarian sector.

Being the charity sector, there were the usual issues with scarce resources. I spent much of my own time consumed with trying to wipe up the overspill from work. Inevitably – like many aid workers – I ran out of energy after 8 years and decided to move on.  All this time I had maintained a few sessions in general practice.  Deep down, I always had a feeling that the most good I had achieved had been through the long term relationships of traditional general practice.

Colleagues expressed concern that I was abandoning my travel medicine career.  I was also a little fearful and felt like I was jumping off a cliff but I also had a sense that things would probably just work out.

Contacts mean a lot and to my surprise, other roles in travel medicine kept popping into my inbox. Eventually, a flyer appeared in my in-tray advertising a CCG role to lead on TB in Hackney and design pathways for a new local clinic in infectious diseases.  As I write this, the role is now nearing completion but it was an important lesson to me that the right opportunities are there if you want them.  

There are many ways and opportunities into travel medicine.   But I think the real learning from this journey is to define what it is you want, as opposed to fitting yourself around the adverts in the BMJ.  Only one of my roles in the last 10 years was ever advertised.  Express your interests to other people and ask, ask, ask.  Eventually what you want will appear – even if it takes a long time.  The world has a funny way of making it happen.  


Both Tropical Medicine schools in London and Liverpool run excellent diplomas

Faculty of Travel Medicine (RCP Glasgow)  Up to date country advice and disease outbreaks plus list of educational events

British Global and Travel Health Association

Expedition medicine, repatriation medicine and writing travel health chapters for guidebooks are also potential ways in

Dr Claire Davies, portfolio GP, London



InnovAiT Writing Competition – Fancy a Go?

Last year we were so impressed with the brilliant entries to the InnovAiT Writing Competition that we thought we would do it again. The winner from last year was Dr Samuel Finnikin who wrote about ‘Seven Days that Changed Nothing?’ closely followed by Dr Kymberlee Merritt who wrote ‘Seeing through the eyes of a GP’ which if you haven’t done so already, they are available to read for free online.

This year there are two categories which you can enter. The first is if you have had a particularly challenging case, or which is emotionally or clinically interesting . The second is if through working together with a team you have improved a patient’s or group of patients’ experience. The entry should be 500 words and submitted by 11th November to

The winner will be published in the journal and runners up will be selected for the Online blog.

It is a great opportunity to try your hand at writing and we are really excited to read your entries.

For more information see this flyer


Switching Off

Our lives are hectic. Work is all consuming in itself, but whether it’s having families or other interests such as doing triathlons  – which a scary number of my friends seem to be doing at the moment – there is always something to do even when we’re not thinking about work.
I really admire those people who can just switch off. Having had what should be a relaxing two weeks off, I realised that it was only during the last few days that I didn’t always have the feeling that there was something else that I should be doing (or rather ten things).
I think this can have a big effect on who we are. Some good friends (both GPs) just had their first baby and the wife noticed that despite the usual associated sleep deprivation, she was pleased to find that she had her old husband back. He was on paternity leave and wasn’t thinking about work and she hadn’t seen him like that for a long time.
I am pretty certain both my patients and my family benefit from when I have managed to switch off a bit by hopefully then being calmer and happier and more able to take on their problems.
I think I am beginning to see the point of those personal statements we had to write to get into med school. Outside interests can be our saviour and allow us therefore to be better at the day job too.
It isn’t quite an outside interest, but it is an amazing and inspiring opportunity available at the moment: To experience a different culture of primary care. The RCGP are funding 38 places to do an observational exchange within any of 10 European countries including France, Croatia, Germany Greece, Italy and Spain. This is available to AiTs and First5s with more information from
Application statements of fewer than 500 words outlining the reason for applying, including learning objectives and outcomes with a CV can be sent by email to
Right, having finally achieved ‘Switching Off’, I need to switch back on again, back to work tomorrow…