Dr Phil Hammond: 59 Minutes To Save The NHS
Show type: Edinburgh Fringe 2002
Anyone who's read the papers, listened to the news or spent thirty six hours lying in a pool of urine somewhere near casualty knows the NHS isn't terribly healthy, but no one knows what to do about it.
In Edinburgh, there is always someone out to shock. Odd, then, that one of the most shocking shows comes from a well-spoken, middle-class doctor recounting a few choice anecdotes from his professional life.
But it's not so much the morbid humour or the sick anatomical stories that upset - but the disturbing fact that every one of his tales is true.
There are some frightening statistics here - for example, the equivalent of a jumbo jet full of patients are killed by the NHS every week, their deaths euphemistically attributed to 'adverse effects' in the system.
Yet nothing is done about the useless surgeons in every hospital, that are the butt of joking epitaphs like 'Doctor Death' or 'The Terminator' - even Harold Shipman got away with it.
But it's not just the doctors' fault. Patients are often too eager to go to GPs for no reason, they put too much faith in the professionals (as Hammond demonstrates by easily getting an audience member to swallow a pill, without knowing what it is), drug multinationals have a tightening influence on health care, the list goes on and we haven't even mentioned politics yet.
He asks some tough questions - a staggering proportion of NHS resources is spent in the last few weeks of life, but is that always worth the expense?
There are a lot of serious and valid points here, but Hammond, a working GP, is never preachy or political. Instead he advances his arguments lightly, with hilarious - and often quite dark - stories told in a highly effective, chatty manner.
So he'll seduce the audience with a gruesome reference - a man who treated his own genital warts with a cheese grater, the potentially serious consequences of farting during an operation, or stomach-churning medical student pranks - then states his case before moving briskly along.
This is sharp comedy that packs a serious point - but never forgets that the main point is to entertain.
It's quite a feat to put the fear of god into an audience, telling such shocking tales that makes them all dread ever having to encounter the health service again, yet still come out smiling and laughing.
But that's exactly what Dr Phil does - a consummate raconteur, an astute commentator and a talented stand-up all rolled into one. And you don't even have to go through a surly receptionist to see him - get on the waiting list now.