Edinburgh Fringe 2011
Dr Phil Hammond explores why the human race insists on sticking familiar objects into inappropriate orifices. Whilst it costs the NHS a fortune to remove these articles, it supplies him with enough amusing material for his career as a stand-up comic and sardonic journalist. Oh, and there’s a bit of earthy advice on how to avoid sexually shared diseases from his aunt in Australia – “keep it in your trousers, mate”.
Dr Phil Hammond is in pretty rude health, or that’s how he describes himself as he bounds onto the podium at the Royal College of Surgeons’ luxuriously appointed and packed lecture theatre. And for a man whose portfolio career includes three of the occupations most likely to induce depression and/or substance dependency – GP, stand-up comic and journalist – he seems remarkably relaxed. It must be his robust and challenging attitude to life. Well, either that or the pills he is taking, he tells us, as he induces a gullible gentleman in the front row to swallow some dubious looking horse pill proffered from a bottle, thus demonstrating just how much we take on trust from those in medical practice.
For the next hour Dr Phil mixes rib-aching humour (mainly focused “between the femurs and the coccyx”) with a wry and sometimes angry political analysis of the NHS – medico satire if you will. Patients are the source of most of the humour with NHS management and politicians supplying the bile. Hammond’s experience on casualty wards early in his medical career has certainly provided him with a seemingly endless stream of toe-curling anecdotes concerning the articles that people insist in inserting into quite inappropriate orifices. And his efforts at wielding a needle in situations of some gynaecological delicacy had most of the audience in tears, laughter in most cases, painful recall in others I suspect.
As a frequent broadcaster on matters medical, he is often asked to provide a remote diagnosis on the health of those prominent in public life. Prime Minister Gordon Brown always amazed him, he said, as he couldn’t understand why someone who looked so awful could remain vertical. This aside saw our scatological hour move off rapidly into a sharp and almost subversive attack on the way that the NHS has been forced by politicians to focus on targets, profits and internal competition at the expense of basic patient choice in terms of the care most suited to their needs.
Serious stuff indeed, but he’s an astute communicator as this ‘medicine’ was carefully delivered with a spoonful of sugar in the form irreverent asides and plenty of lampooning of those in the NHS hierarchy. The idea of having GP surgeries in supermarkets, for example (perhaps with a special check-out for those with less than six symptoms), received the full Hammond satirical blast. And, apparently, the obsession of the ‘worried well’ with the reassurance theoretically to be gained from a full body MRI scan has led to them becoming victims of what is now referred to as VOMIT syndrome – Victims Of Medical Imaging Technology – as any scan will always induce more panic than it ever cures.
It’s a well-balanced hour that makes laugh as well as think about the very serious issues facing our venerable NHS. His assertion that a little more common sense and a lot less central interference might improve matters for patients and practitioners struck a chord with us all.
Given that laughter is a proven anti-depressant, perhaps an hour with Dr Phil should be made available on prescription, rather than the addictive alternatives that do wonders for pharmaceutical company profits at the expense of their recipients. Now that would be good for your health. I certainly emerged from his surgery a lot happier and relaxed than when I went in.