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Independents' Day

Demoralised by all this browbeating

While on weekend duty at our emergency service co-operative two years ago, one of our more feckless patients rang in for the umpteenth time with a trivial problem. I have known her since she was a baby, so after dealing with her 'emergency' I took the opportunity to advise her not to use the service in such an inappropriate manner.

A few days later I received a hostile and barely literate letter of complaint about my 'attitude'. This has been repeated on a number of occasions since, which discourages me from doing the 'gatekeeper' element of my job properly.

It is hardly surprising that after a couple of decades in general practice many of us are considering early retirement. It is not just the better pensions we enjoy these days compared with our predecessors in the early days of the NHS, although their annual income was considerably better than ours in relative terms.

It is also the profound change in the attitude of people, especially the significant minority of what I call the 'two percenters' ­ the unpleasant band of social misfits whose behaviour mimics that of the more unpleasant characters on popular TV programmes.

Their relentless browbeating, mainly in afternoon/evening surgeries and on-call situations, is sufficient to render the job of the urban GP deeply unattractive. Two per cent of a practice population of more than 10,000 patients adds up to a lot of grief.

It becomes even more unattractive when one realises that in the socio-political climate of today, things can only get worse.

This opinion is endorsed by the undeniable fact that of the 130-plus GPs in my part of the county there are only a handful left who are both over 55 and in full-time practice. At the other end of the scale, a recent survey showed fewer than one in five medical students wanted to become GPs. All very demoralising for those of us who think we still enjoy the job. Are we kidding ourselves?

Dr John Fitton


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