FORTROSE -- Frustrated over lengthy waiting times for NHS services, Jock Spense, 62, of Academy Street, recently devised a novel way to jump the queue. "Aye, well, you see, like," he said, "I've had this pain in my leg but the next appointment [at the Surgery] isn't for two weeks." This situation is all too common these days, we discovered. Between budget constraints, staff shortages and the threat of industrial action, the post-war British tradition of state-subsidised hypochondria is at an absolute breaking-point. That's what made Spense take matters into his own hands. "By the time I wait two weeks for an appointment, eight weeks for a referral and sixteen weeks for an operation, I may as well cut the damn leg off myself." We asked Spense if that route didn't seem a bit extreme. "Oh aye, I began thinking how to do it, gettin' through that muckle bone and all and that's when I had a brainstorm." He detailed for us the events leading up his revelation. "I was at the till at the Co-op, waiting for the lassie to fetch me a pouch of tobacco. I'd had a wee swallie at the [Union] Tavern and something caught my eye." The object in question was a brochure for the Co-Op's pet insurance programme. He enlisted the help of Sales Assistant, Lorna Hassock, 19, of Avoch. "Aye, well Mr Spense was feelin' very little pain, as they say, and was struggling to fill out the application, so I gave him a hand. When it came to putting in the pet's name he sort of stared at my, erm, blouse for a minute and blurted out, 'Lorna.' I don't think he even has a pet, like." Spense then asked his neighbour, Alice Wagner, 78, also of Academy Street, if he could take her dog, Wobbles, for a walk. We later comfirmed her consent to the request. Armed with his new policy in one hand and Wobbles' lead in the other, Spense made his way to Conanvet on Station Road. That's when he deployed his cunning plan. "Aye, well, dogs and people, people and dogs, right?" Spense told us. "I figured we're not that different, and if I told the vet that the dog had the same same sore leg, that's me to the head of the queue, right?" But it wasn't to be so simple. "I became suspicious when I read the registration form Mr Spense filled out for us," said veterenary doctor, Gillian Forsyth, 41, of Conan Bridge. "First off, he reeked of stale beer, although now that I think if it, that may just have been the latest Lynx scent. But then I noticed that the name, gender and breed of the dog didn't match his insurance policy. Plus, he wrote in at the bottom of the form, 'occashunel [sic] smoker'." Once in the examination room, Spence went on to describe the dog's alleged symptoms "as if they were his own." She continued: "He would point to the dog's leg, then tell me how much it hurt after only a couple of pints. The dog appeared to be in no discomfort, so we discharged them with some hand-outs on de-worming. Those are our least-popular brochures and Mr Spense didn't strike me as the reading type, anyway." Back in the plain comfort of his Council house, we asked Spense if he was happy with the way his ploy panned out. "Och, I can't say I rate those doctors. My leg still hurts, even after a couple of those worm tablets. To tell you the truth, I wouldna trust those people with my dog. Even if I had one."
This article contains additional reporting by Jess Anderson