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At the heart of general practice since 1960

Let's remind patients what supermarkets did to corner shops

A long time ago there was a corner shop. It had been trading in the community for decades. Elderly people liked it because it was just down the road. They knew the shopkeeper well and he knew what they liked and didn't like. Occasionally the shopkeeper would stop by with their goods if they weren't able make it to the shop that day.

Young mums were always at his door, bringing their children with them. The dads would occasionally stop by as well but the shop was used mostly by the elderly, the mothers and their children.

One day, the shopkeeper told his customers he was worried about his future. A big new supermarket was opening in the town. It would be open from early in the morning to late at night. It wouldn't be staffed by old-fashioned shopkeepers but by checkout staff. They would have a lot more goods than he could stock. And the local council was planning on increasing his rent and subsidising the rent of the new supermarket.

He didn't know what to do. He started opening later in the evenings and earlier in the mornings. But it made no difference. His costs were increasing and his income falling. He asked the council to reduce his rent to compete fairly with the supermarket, but they would not listen.

Reluctantly, he explained to all his faithful customers that he could no longer compete. They were horrified. Some mistakenly had been using the supermarket as it was a bit more convenient, but hadn't realised this would cause their local shop to close. His customers petitioned the council on the shopkeeper's behalf, but it was too late.

One day, the shopkeeper locked up for the last time. He was very sad. As he drove home he passed the shiny, new supermarket. He decided to walk in. It was full of people and there were lots of goods. He tried to find a shopkeeper to ask a question, but there was only one available who was very busy. He asked a checkout girl for advice but she didn't know the answer.

He continued his drive home. He was old enough and could retire. But what about his younger colleagues? Small shops were closing everywhere.

He walked into his garden and saw his neighbour over the fence, the local GP.

The shopkeeper told his tale to his neighbour, who offered sympathy. The shopkeeper replied: 'You'd better watch out, it could be surgeries next.'

The GP, laughed. 'No one would get rid of GPs. Patients wouldn't tolerate seeing a nameless doctor who works from a large clinic.'

'Yes, you are probably right,' said the shopkeeper. 'Being ill is very different from buying bread and cake. It would be extremely foolish if your surgery had to close.'

The two men exchanged good evenings and walked inside for their tea.

Your patients may not understand the ins and outs of the debate on general practice but they do know what happened to corner shops. Get patients to support your practice before it's too late.

From Dr Jonathan Pywell, Coventry

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