In the consulting room: compulsive lying


In this week’s instalment of our fly-on-the-wall documentary about the working lives of doctors, an NHS finance director discusses a delicate matter with her GP

Doctor: What can I do for you today?

Patient: It’s a bit embarrassing. I’d rather not talk about it

Doctor: There’s nothing you can tell me that I haven’t heard before

Patient: You won’t tell anyone else?

Doctor: I’ve taken an oath

Patient: I’m worried that I’m becoming a compulsive liar. I simply can’t tell the truth any more

Doctor: I see. Why is that a problem for you?

Patient: I’ll be sacked if I tell the truth

Doctor: I find that hard to believe

Patient: No, honestly. I’m not lying – at least not about that

Doctor: Why do you feel the urge to lie?

Patient: It’s the only way I can keep other people happy – the chief executive, other members of the board, NHS Improvement, NHS England

Doctor: And you’d rather tell the truth?

Patient: God, no! The truth is far worse

Doctor: Do the people you’ve mentioned know that you’re lying to them?

Patient: Yes

Doctor: And they don’t mind?

Patient: No, they prefer it. In fact, they insist. They’re all doing it too

Doctor: Have you ever tried telling the truth?

Patient: I tried it last year. I said we couldn’t meet our financial targets. Everyone was furious

Doctor: Because it wasn’t true?

Patient: No, because it was

Doctor: What happened?

Patient: We didn’t get our transformation funding

Doctor: Which is…?

Patient: The extra cash we need to transform the balance sheet

Doctor: I see, so other people are rewarding you for lying? That’s very unhealthy

Patient: Maybe, but it’s better than being punished for telling the truth

Doctor: If everyone’s lying surely you have nothing to worry about

Patient: I’ll have plenty to worry about at the end of the financial year when the truth comes out

Doctor: Just tell them you were all in it together

Patient: The board will deny it. They’ll say the figures I gave them showed that everything was fine

Doctor: And do they?

Patient: Yes, but only because they told me to make them up

Doctor: So, what do you want me to do?

Patient: I hoped you could give me something for it

Doctor: I could give you the name of my accountant or a short course of anti-depressants

Patient: I think I need something stronger or I’m not sure I’ll get through next winter

Doctor: Did you have something in mind?

Patient: Ten million should do it

Doctor (writing prescription): Take this to the pharmacy. You should feel better in a couple of days

Patient: Is it a cheque?

Doctor: Yes

Patient: Honestly?

Doctor: No, not really, but I have other patients to see and your time’s up

Patient: Thank you for being so honest with me, doctor

Doctor: Not at all. Send in the next liar on your way out   

Editorial regulator: Julian Patterson 


Reproduced at by kind permission of Julian Patterson.