Meet the ‘plumbers’ of the NHS

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“We are the plumbers of the health service – the guys you go to for bladder, kidney and testicular problems.”

Urology consultant Peter Rimington is fairly up front about the role played by he and his colleagues.

He is one of five consultants, eight middle grades and six junior doctors who together deal with around 130 patients a week – or 6,700 odd a year.

“We deal with a wide range of conditions,” Mr Rimington elaborated, “it starts from things like kidney stones and infections and goes all the way up to bladder, prostate and testicular cancers.

“Things are split into three main areas: stones, urinary cancers and lower urinary tract disorders. Each has its own demands.”

Chief among those demands however seems to be convincing people to take more personal responsibility for their own health.

While Mr Rimington and his team – which includes world-renowned stone surgeon Graham Watson who, according to Mr Rimington, “has literally changed the lives of millions of people,” – are hugely skilled clinicians who are as adept as any at the DGH at treating both minor and serious conditions, their job, it seems, could be made a hell of a lot easier.

“One of the problems we encounter is that, unlike women who regularly check their breasts for lumps, men are not as good at checking themselves for signs of cancers or other illnesses.

“Really, men should be getting a prostate examination at least one a year and should be feeling their testicles every month for any changes.

“Testicular cancer is more likely between the ages of 16 and 40, which is something a lot of people are probably not aware of. That is the age group in which is it most common and so that is the section of society which should be paying most attention and keeping an eye out for potential symptoms.

“That means feeling your testicles for lumps regularly and reporting any changes to your GP as soon as possible.

“The sooner we can identify a problem the more likely we are to be able to do something about it.”

This is clearly a message Mr Rimington is passionate about and no doubt hammers home whenever he has the chance. But, are words of warning enough given that many people will only be talking to him once they have a diagnosis?

Mr Rimington would like to see a whole lot more done to highlight the issue.

“It is good when the media talks about cases involving well known people but we need more than that,” he said.

“Having to feel your testicles should be part of health advice at school.

“It is about education, education, education.”

But should men be sent annual reminders to have tests in the same way women are warned of up-coming smear tests?

“It is a controversial area,” admits Mr Rimington, “but I think so.

“Anything that can be done to get more men checked on a more regular basis must be a good thing.”

Testicular cancer though, is not the be all and end all of the work in urology. AS Mr Rimington explained, a lot of what the team deals with is surgery surrounding the removal of stones, something which these days is far less invasive and leave no scar in comparison to any similar operation in years gone by.

And, just like testicular cancer is most prevalent among the 16-40 age group, those older than that are also at an increase risk, this time of prostate cancer.

For that reason, Mr Rimington believes an annual prostate check for people over the age of 50 should be regarded as a must.

“I realise there are some issues people have with a prostate examination.

“But we are only talking about once a year. The way I look at it is that ten to 15 seconds of mild discomfort compared to the risk in not having one.

“To me, it is just common sense. One people have one carried out they realise it isn’t all that bad.”

The message is clear: keep feeling your balls, get your prostate checked and don’t be shy in reporting any problems.

Better safe than sorry.