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How to take the aggravation out of a complaint

RCGP chair Dr Mayur Lakhani on a conference promoting positive practice

I am proud to be a GP.

I enjoy my work and I can't think of a better job. Nothing gives me greater pleasure than giving a good surgery. And I actually look forward to going into work!

The future is also enticing for GPs. So I want to tackle head on the doom merchants who peddle negative stories about general practice. It is definitely possible to have a professionally happy career in general practice and the RCGP is holding a conference to look at what professional happiness is and how to get it.

The aim of the conference is to equip GPs with skills to achieve professional happiness. The conference will examine the key elements of a rewarding and positive career in general practice with tips and advice to help GPs fulfil their professional potential, manage stress and maintain a positive work/life balance.

It will also offer a tool for self-assessment of morale and for managing conflict ­ situations that people often find difficult. There will also be a demonstration from GPs who have found professional happiness.

We can learn a lot from the world outside of medicine in terms of understanding the psychology of low morale and unhappiness among doctors that exists worldwide.

The conference will involve a speaker from the University of Cambridge on positive psychology and the world of sport where techniques are used to raise morale and motivation.

What GPs do is important: 90 per cent of the work of the NHS is done in primary care; nearly one million consultations take place in general practice every day on average. Levels of satisfaction remain high for GP services and trust in GPs consistently exceeds 90 per cent.

GPs do the lion's share of the work in the NHS and are highly effective and efficient. This is particularly so in managing uncertainty and managing the demand for secondary care. GPs have led the way in IT, in education and training, in premises development, in team-working, and in innovation.

Imagine if there was no general practice and patients with abdominal pain, chest pain, children with fever, anyone who felt unwell or sick, turned up at hospital. The system would surely collapse. Put like this, the benefits of general practice in the UK become clear and at the heart of this is the relationship between the doctor and patient ­ the essence of general practice.

I am worried about the current obsession with specialisation and sub-specialisation. It is time we promoted the virtue of generalism. At parties I used to be asked: 'Are you going to be specialist or just a GP?' I think the question now should be: 'Are you going to be a GP or just a consultant?' Of course we need good hospital specialists and they are essential to patient care. But as generalists become rare in the hospital setting, the role of the GP will become even more important and clinically challenging.

What is the formula for a successful and positive career in general practice? It is clear to me that some elements are essential: the need for challenge and professional stimulation in clinical work; a supportive and unambiguous work environment that encourages professional development and personal growth; ability to control workload; variety, mix and match or portfolio careers; being valued and the values of a reflective and open-minded practitioner to prepare oneself for a changing environment.

New opportunities now present themselves in the context of the NHS Improvement Plan, particularly for entrepreneurial GPs and practice-based commissioning, which has the potential to improve services for patients.

I would urge GPs to unite and to make the most of the unparalleled opportunities currently available for the development of general practice and primary care.

We are seeing signs of renewal in general practice. With the first year of the contract firmly behind us, with clear evidence of improvement in patient care, GPs can be proud of their achievements.

I am confident that the best days for general practice lie ahead of us.

·Positive general practice, a Conference by the RCGP, is to be held on June 8.

Further information can be provided by Healthcare Events and/or the RCGP website.

Mayur Lakhani is chair of the RCGP council and a GP in Loughborough

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