NHS direct or The Flowchart of Death

As I’ve got a fair understanding of the workings of the human body and know some basic level medical care, have a job in which I interperet all available information before making my own decision and providing advice, I was able to see the funny side of the NHS Direct help I got today, courtesy of their website.

I have long understood the power of the self-diagnosis flowchart to convice someone feeling a little under par that they’re going to DIE HORRIBLY, and what’s more, IMMEDIATELY, so call that ambulance NOW NOW NOW!!!

Its true. My mother’s old Health Encyclopaedia had innocuous-sounding titles for its flow-chart pages, which lulled you into a false sense of security – asking you trivial little questions almost like you were answering one of those magasine quizzes, but later on you’d be ushered into the box which said ‘If you have not been able to make a diagnosis from this chart, see your Doctor URGENTLY’.

And then the imagination runs riot until the daylight of the following morning when you start putting things into perspective a bit.

So, I started in the NHS Direct website in the same way. I have an excruciating sore throat, which is making it very difficult to swallow. I look under T for throat in the self-help guide.

Scrolled the list for ‘Sore throat in adults’  

The site asks me questions about whether, as a result of the sore throat I find the life draining from me because I can’t breathe, can’t speak, can’t swallow. I almost said yes, but then I mentally shook myself and agreed that it wasn’t quite that bad.

I clicked no.

Have I had this for more than two weeks, is my voice hoarse.

Well – its a bit hoarse but I’ve only had it three days, so I clicked no.

Are your tonsils speckled white or do they have pus on them?

YES. Yes they do.

Up comes the advice box:

Make an appointment to see your GP. You may have tonsillitis. Or Pharyngitis.

Did I follow the advice? No, I said: “Hang on. I probably do have tonsillitis since my tonsils are so swollen I can barely swallow, and so hideously painful I can’t begin to descibe it. But what is my GP going to do for me when I get to his surgery??”

So, I went back to the NHS homepage, and found the details of tonsillitis.

There’s a lot of information on tonsillitis – it goes over many pages. The summary is as follows:

Your GP probably won’t give you anything to help you, because most of these things are viral and will go away on their own after a few days. In the meantime keep taking the painkillers, get plenty of sleep and get on with it.

Then my eyes strayed to the ‘Possible complications’ bit. I should never have read them, but I did. They told me that my throat infection can very rarely cause a variety of weird other illnesses which can be easily treated but if missed can be fatal.

Fortunately I’m sensible enough to know that thousands of people get tonsillitis every day and don’t die.

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2 Responses to “NHS direct or The Flowchart of Death”


  1. 1 floatykatja 11 January 2008 at 1:00 pm

    My understanding of tonsillitis (being a freqent sufferer) is that there are two kinds – one of which isn’t helped by antibiotics and one of which is. Certainly my GP always gives me antibiotics and I start to feel much better within 24 hours of starting the course.


  1. 1 Tonsils and Death « Still Spinning Trackback on 14 May 2008 at 10:08 pm

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