About: Poole General Hospital / General medicine

(as the patient),

I was initially diagnosed with gallstones by three GPs on separate occasions. Symptoms escalated over three months and I was referred for an ultrasound scan and on to a consultant. When I had the scan (six months and a lot of painkillers later) it showed no gallstones. The consultant tried to take me off the waiting list without seeing me, even though my symptoms were as bad as ever. I was unhappy with this and my GP wrote to the consultant to explain why I ought to be seen.

At this point I wrote to PALS asking for their advice on how to handle the situation, but they just forwarded my email – unedited – straight to the consultant. I was pretty upset when I composed it, so this did not help. I was horrified that PALS had done such a thing - I thought they were there in an independent intermediary capacity to act on patients’ behalf. Instead, they appeared to be just another part of the hospital administration. I wouldn't trust them again.

I subsequently saw a registrar, who tested me for a sheep-borne parasitic liver condition (I found out later that the scan results didn’t suggest this any more than it did gallstones).

When the test came back negative, my GP referred me back for a second scan and wrote asking for the consultant to see me.

When I saw the consultant, clearly disbelieved me from the start. I had the symptoms of gallstones without having gallstones and I was given the impression that the consultant thought I was imagining it or outright lying. The consultant was unable to find the positive Murphy’s Sign elicited by GPs which had pointed them to gallstones in the first place (although I was crying with pain by the time the consultant had finished prodding me), which made things worse.

The consultants parting shot was that it was viewed the source of my pain as “un-diagnosable” and would therefore recommend that I wasn't referred to another specialism.

My GP was very unhappy with this but said that as the consultant had written to state this opinion, the GP's hands were tied and there was nothing more that could be done under the NHS.

I was left a year from the onset of my symptoms, still in significant pain, labelled a hypochondriac and with no hope of further help from the NHS. With my GP’s support (although in my GP's view the NHS should have done more), I dipped into my savings and I was referred to a private consultant. The idea was that I should be examined with fresh eyes and no focus on the gallstones theory.

Within twenty minutes of seeing the private consultant, I was diagnosed costochondritis. This was localised at the base of my ribs and would definitely produce something that looked like a positive Murphy’s Sign if prodded during a flare-up. In the event nothing can be done about costochondritis, but at least I now know what I have, what aggravates it, I can live with it better and I rarely need painkillers any more.

It took me over a year to get a diagnosis and I had to pay for that. The only part of the NHS that helped was my excellent GP and in the end, my GP was prevented from doing anything more by the NHS consultant. The consultant thought I was a hypochondriac and I wonder what my NHS hospital notes say about me. I dread being referred back to that hospital for anything as I can see that being labelled a liar and an attention-seeker is going to make it very difficult to be taken seriously.

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