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  • Writer's pictureAndrew Collinson

"It's not really urgent is it?"

The often crushing lack of empathy from those we turn to for help.

“It’s not really urgent is it?” This is the response I had from a dermatologist. I was 15 years old, having to face daily the psychologically harrowing experience of going into the Jungle that is school. Not only feeling like my entire body was damaged and under attack but having to deal with the constant threat of the next crushing and humiliating comment.

From a lifetime of using the NHS I can usually tell within seconds of an appointment the quality of the care I’m about to receive. In this instance I was immediately met with a nonchalant and dismissive attitude. I tried to plead my case and ask for help but it was very clear that the aim for the doctor was to get me out of the door as soon as possible. I was promised a prescription for a cream and left. This prescription never materialised. A few days later I phoned the doctor back and was told “it’s not really urgent is it?”. I could give endless examples of this seemingly unempathetic attitude, poor quality care and tactless comments from healthcare professionals. From being told my skin looked scaly to the medical term for the scarring on my neck being referred to as a “dirty neck”. 

Now don’t get me wrong, I have received care from some wonderful HCP’s who have listened, empathised and have given me a feeling of hope that my suffering was understood and the appropriate steps were being taken. I will forever be grateful to those who made me feel listened to when I needed it most. However in my experience this is nowhere near as common as it should be. Which is why clinics such as at St John’s institute of dermatology at Guys Hospital in London often have referral times of over a year and have people coming from as far as Scotland to receive the care that they so desperately need.

How can we expect society to truly emphathise with the crippling damage both physical and psychological of a chronic skin condition if we can’t even take it for granted from our healthcare professionals or even our dermatologists? This feeds the general “it’s just a rash” attitude which leaves us as patients often being completely dismissed as the urgency is not truly recognised. 

Suicide is the biggest killer of people under the age of 35. It doesn’t take a psychologist to work out that a condition which doesn’t allow you to sleep, robs you of every ounce of your self esteem, leaves you feeling completely alienated from those around you and leaves you in pain and discomfort every waking moment of your life would be a very significant contributor to that risk. Yet the dangers are still not fully grasped and the urgency of the situation is still not fully understood even by those we should rely on for help.

I am conscious of the negativity of this post however I think it is important to highlight the reality of my experience. I rarely believe these issues are due to any malice or “laziness” but simply due to a lack of understanding. And it is one of the goals of this blog to change this. 

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