As a new series of BBC 1’s Street Doctor begins next week to offer primary care to patients on their home turf, HELEN RAE asks the Tyneside GP involved in the programme what health benefits it can offer
FOR many, going to see their GP can be an inconvenient problem as people do not always have the time to fit in a quick appointment.
So just imagine being able to see a doctor at your own place of work, or in the high street during your lunch break.
Well, that is exactly what the eight-part health series Street Doctor offers.
It takes four GPs out of their surgeries and on to the streets of Britain.
The team diagnose, inform and treat people wherever they are – on the street, in the shopping centre, at their office or on the bus home.
The GPs include Dr George Rae, of Whitley Bay, Barbara Murray, Jonty Heaversedge and Ayan Panja.
Dr Rae explains: “As doctors, our main aim is to improve people’s long-term health and be as accessible to the public as possible.
“So when I was told about Street Doctor I thought it was a great concept because, apart from diagnosing, treating and screening for conditions, it’s a good way to give health promotion and offer lifestyle advice.
“Doing the programme has been a real eye-opener and I’ve been amazed at the number of people who seem to put up with health issues, sometimes serious conditions, without going to see their GP.
“On two occasions cancer was diagnosed and, fortunately, after seeking my advice on the street, the individuals were able to go to their own doctor for important health tests and treatment.”
National Men’s Health Week was launched at The Sage Gateshead earlier this year, putting the spotlight on the North East’s healthcare.
A survey highlighted that up to 10% of men said they would prefer to stick their heads in the sand to avoid embarrassment of discussing their health issues with a GP.
And a special campaign run by the North Tyneside NHS Trust has also been launched to encourage men, aged 50 to 70, to take a pit-stop and get a health check.
“Men tend not to visit their doctor as much, or with as much ease, as women,” explained father-of-two Dr Rae, “and it’s certainly a pattern that’s reflected in my surgery at Whitley Bay and throughout the region.
“That’s sometimes a real disadvantage because scores of men could be suffering from conditions, such as underlining diabetes or a heart problem where early treatment would be beneficial in the long-term. But while doing Street Doctor it was the complete reverse and it was, in fact, the men who were approaching me, as opposed to the women, which was very encouraging.
“This has allowed us to cover a variety of conditions and symptoms that are common in men, so if they have similar concerns they know to get checked out.”
Series One of Street Doctor was broadcast from January to March this year with one of the first episodes filmed in Newcastle, taking in Grey’s Monument, the Newcastle and Gateshead quaysides, Swan Hunter and the Great North Run.
How did the health of the region compare with other parts of the country?
Dr Rae says: “There have always been health inequalities between the North and South and, though the North has improved dramatically in the last decade, there is still a health gap.
“In the North East there are high levels of cancer and heart disease which need to be addressed, and the programme has further highlighted these issues.
“While doing the programme we found high rates of obesity, smoking, raised blood pressure and alcohol consumption in the area, which can lead to numerous complications, such as strokes.”
A chance meeting with pensioner Alf Douglas while filming helped save the pensioner from an unknown skin cancer.
For six months, the 77-year-old had been living with basal cell carcinoma skin cancer until he bumped into the GP as he took his wife to the hairdresser.
Dr Rae spotted a lesion on Mr Douglas’ nose and examined him in the street.
Concerned, the father-of-one needed to be seen by a specialist. He was recommended to visit his GP.
Mr Douglas, of Blyth, immediately began treatment to remove the growth and his case was shown during the series.
Dr Rae said: “It’s nice to know the programme has helped a variety of people seek medical advice.
“By being able to just stop us on the street makes some want to speak to you to get reassurance because it’s in an informal environment with no appointment necessary.”
He added: “I was a little apprehensive filming in the North East, as I didn’t know what kind of reception I’d get and it was odd going to places I knew well.
“But I was quickly put at ease as the Geordies were their usual warm and friendly selves.”
One of Dr Rae’s highlights was at the Great North Run, when he found himself examining a human millipede before the race.
“It was a surreal, but fun, experience giving a health check to 20 people dressed as a giant millipede!”
Dr Rae adds: “It’s so important people in the region look after their bodies and follow a healthy lifestyle, and there’s no reason why they shouldn’t.
“A good way of looking after yourself is to take up an enjoyable exercise.
“With such a fantastic coastline and events such as the Great North Run it gives a great incentive to take up jogging.”
For more information about the series, log on to: www.bbc.co.uk/streetdoctor
Street Doctor will be shown on BBC 1 every Monday, at 7.30pm, from September 3 until October 22.
Health tips from the Street Doctors
DR GEORGE RAE:
Take up an exercise you’ll enjoy – swimming, jogging, running.
Keep your intake of alcohol down – 14 units per week for women, 22 units for men.
Get your blood pressure checked every three to five years.
DR AYAN PANJA:
Eat five portions of fruit and vegetables a day.
Drink plenty of water, eight glasses a day for an adult.
Exercise is crucial. Twenty minutes minimum, three or four times a week.
Avoid stress by managing your time better. Leaving everything to the last minute creates stressful situations.
DR BARBARA MURRAY:
Take up a hobby, learn a new skill or try taking part in a sporting or group activity.
Use the stairs, not the lift, at work.
Eat fish at least twice a week.
Walk 20 minutes a day. Try to avoid using the car.
Reduce fat (approximately 70g fat per day in average diet).
DR JONTY HEAVERSEDGE:
Drink alcohol in moderation and have at least two drink free days a week.
Spend half an hour a day doing something that makes you feel relaxed. Try meditation.
Stop smoking and use the money you save to treat yourself to a massage.
Get at least seven to eight hours’ sleep a night.