Every once in a while, someone who knows you well will recommend a book for you to read – not just the last novel they happened to race through on holiday, but something they have carefully put aside for you, knowing how much you will enjoy it. A personal recommendation like this rarely disappoints.
If this is so for fiction, then why not for medical books? If a friend can know you well enough to recommend a good yarn, can your doctor have sufficient insight to guide you towards the right book to help with your health? If you trust your friend enough to follow their lead, will you also take the time to try your doctor’s suggestion?
In my experience, the answer is ‘yes’ more often than not. I’m constantly humbled by how often my patients do get hold of a book I have suggested and take a look inside. I can’t say it is always transformative, but it is usually helpful and frequently makes a big difference to how they approach the challenges they are facing – sometimes they refer back to it even years later.
This is why I was broadly in favour of the Books on Prescription scheme the Government launched a couple of years ago. While I found it mildly irritating that something as simple as getting a book out of the library could depend on some sort of ethereal ‘prescription’ (the concept seems to me to leave the patient in too passive a role), the idea that more books might be available for patients seemed to be a good move.
Two years on, however, I have not recommended a single one of them to my patients.
The problem is that there are too many steps in the process: First, I have to remember which books are on the list – books I haven’t been able to look through myself since I haven’t visited the library yet to check them out; then I need to recommend the book to my patient, who may not be used to using a public library; finally the patient needs to visit the library, and even then we have to hope the book is available and not already out on loan.
When I visited the Books on Prescription stand at the RCGP conference, therefore, I put these problems to him: ‘wouldn’t it be better if the books were held in a GP practice?’ I suggested. To my surprise, he agreed with me and within a fortnight a full set of all the books had arrived at the practice to form the basis for a new practice library.
Of course, we wanted to add some books of our own choosing and the Binscombe Medical Trust kindly agreed to fund the purchase of more books, the doctors added a few of their own and even the manager of our local Waterstones store made a donation.
The library was launched at the end of July, with 40 books available to browse in the waiting room and free for any of our patients to take out in loan. I’m intrigued to see how it works out.
Will it be a success that we will want to expand and develop over coming months and years, or will the idea of a library in a GP waiting room be so unfamiliar that the books are rarely looked at in favour of the more usual supply of magazines? Or will they be taken out on loan, never to be seen again? They are all clearly marked and we are asking patients to leave a contact number when they borrow one, but library books are notorious for going wandering, so I do worry.
However, it will be great to be able to go and get a copy of a book from the waiting room and show it to someone rather than just talk about it, and good to know that cost won’t be an issue.
I’d be very interested to hear what patients think, and for any suggestions about other titles to bring on board!
Here’s what’s in the library at the moment.