General practice: demanding work Understanding patterns of work in primary care By John Waller and Paul Hodgkin Radcliffe Medical Press 177 pages £17.95

An ambiguous title. Given the recruitment crisis and bludgeoning workload, general practice is most definitely not demanding work. Far from it, most GPs are being forced to shed a goodly chunk of their remit to practice nurses and managers.

Waller and Hodgkin are fatalistic about this, and point out some of the myths concerning workload, but recognise that stress, along with the actual work, can also be passed down at the same time. As Kenneth Calman, former chief medical officer, says: 'I do not personally suffer from stress, but I know I am a carrier.'

The authors argue that such stress prevention is impossible without hard data on home visits, recidivists, consultation rates and all the other bits of general practice we were once content to deal with but not measure. I was once accosted by a man on Belfast's Shankill Road who demanded to know which church I belonged to.

Feeling just a hint of superiority I replied 'recidivist'.

On regaining consciousness I decided on a quick audit of my inter-personal communication skills. As luck would have it Waller and Hodgkin are pioneers in measuring matters medical. For those of you who really want to know exactly how many men vs women see their GP, how often, at what time, during which season, and compare it to the first number you thought of, this is the book for you. It is beyond doubt, the perfect book for the average royal college fanatic.

Yet there is something seductive about this lively, data-packed piece of 'high tech meets Dr Finlay'. Not least, the book is easy to read. No mean feat when you consider that each of its pages is lucky to get away without a bar chart, table or pie diagram.

Yes, it is weaker on advice, often allowing the reader to draw their own conclusions once the data has made it perfectly clear that nailing a frequent defaulter to the waiting-room notice board is unacceptable. But it at least gives power to your elbow when it comes to working out strategies - basing them more on evidence than anecdote or personal intuition.

At the end of the book the authors let their metaphorical political slip show. 'The real answer, 'as the BMA says' is to cut the waiting time (and workload) by increasing the number of doctors.'How true, but as likely in the present climate of doctor bashing as my sectarian friend coming back yet again to find out what a recidivist actually is.

Demanding yes.Working? Not in practice, generally, chum.