●● DR Paul Bowen (left) is a GP with McIlvride Medical Practice, Poynton, and executive chairman of NHS Eastern Cheshire Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG): mean this in three ways.
Firstly, doctors and patients often feel that an appointment is wasted if it does not result in a prescription, referral, or test. Having a chat and deciding to do nothing, other than observe and come back if things don’t settle can be misinterpreted.
The truth is that many things do get better on their own, and the back pain, sore throat or headache would have got better anyway even without the antibiotic or painkiller we may have decided to prescribe.
In fact, we are not doing nothing, there is either nothing that can be done, or the wonderful human body repairs itself naturally. The skill, and difficulty, is knowing when to do nothing.
Secondly, telling our patients to do ‘nothing’ is extremely therapeutic.
Many of us get stressed, anxious or depressed. Our lives are so busy that we see no choice but to try to squeeze everything in, making us more and more ill. I often tell patients to be selfish, look after yourself, and do nothing.
A sick note is a chance to rest, reflect and recuperate, and in many cases is far more effective that medication or therapy.
Accepting this advice is often difficult, and adds to feelings of guilt, low self-esteem and confidence. But in time, with supportive friends, employers, family and health professionals, the mind can heal.
Lastly, some employers accept and support this concept of sick leave, others can put pressure on their staff which only worsens their condition.
Employers play a key role in supporting staff and must resist the urge to contact patients during this time off – it usually has adverse effects.
As an employer myself, I’ve learnt the best thing I can do is nothing, other than send a box of chocolates and a get well soon card!