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LMCs need to get this message across: seeing your GP is no longer safe

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I have two issues with the recent junior doctor strike. One, why did they have to take action on my day duty? Selfish. Though, interestingly, the day was amazingly quiet. Which just goes to show that so much of our workload is led by patient behaviour – and opens up the possibility that we could trot out something along the lines of, ‘Sorry, we’re all feeling a bit shit today, so the NHS is shut’ next time we fancy a duvet day.

And two, the fact that the motive for striking had to be contorted into concern for patient safety. True, the spin-medics say – probably correctly – that you won’t win the public relations battle by banging on about money. But it still irritates me that doctors are supposed to be so angelic and vocational that they’re above worrying about the mortgage.

Something has to give, and if it’s not my sanity then it’s patient safety

Which brings me to the extraordinary meeting of LMC representatives. We could be steeling ourselves for anything from, at one end of the spectrum, fully manned- and womanned-up industrial action to, at the other, a leaflet/poster campaign politely asking everyone to bother us a little less, if it’s not too much trouble.

But whether we decide to square up to a bullying Government or run home with slightly wet pants to mummy, the message we send out does not need any contriving. Because this time it really is patient safety.

It’s simple. I don’t want more money. I want less work. Why? Because the current pressure is unsustainable. It’s unprecedented. And it’s dangerous. I’m getting into work earlier, I’m getting home later and, within this ever expanding day, I’m packing more and more in per hour, because more and more per hour is being asked of me.

Something has to give, and if it’s not my sanity then it’s patient safety. Already, I’m cutting corners. I’m taking best guesses in consultations. I’m doing what’s expedient. I’m sending more people to A&E. I’m lowering my threshold for referral. I’ve even caught myself dishing out antibiotics, goddammit. My perplexed, amoxicillin-clutching patients have taken to asking me if I’m OK, to which I reply, ‘obviously not’.

Worse still, the brain-addling pressure is making me unreliable. In recent weeks I’ve forgotten to do some prescriptions, overlooked phone calls, and, who knows, maybe missed a home visit or two – I can’t tell, my mind’s too scrambled to know what sodding day it is. I’m not burned out, but I am overwhelmed.

So, no matter how we decide to convey it, the message must be clear. Seeing your GP is no longer safe, because we’re stretched beyond proper functioning. Mistakes will be made, and, ultimately, it’s the Government’s fault for, by its own admission, punishing and neglecting GPs for so long. Something has to change, so let’s hope that this extraordinary meeting comes up with an extraordinary plan. Otherwise, with patient safety going down the pan, the politicians will have blood on their hands. Literally. Though we know who’ll take the rap, don’t we?

Dr Tony Copperfield is a GP in Essex. You can follow him on Twitter @DocCopperfield

Pulse will be reporting live from the Special LMCs Conference this Saturday. Follow all the developments at pulsetoday.co.uk/lmcconf

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Readers' comments (23)

  • Vinci Ho

    Nigel , it is time of anti-spinning. Get other media (e.g. BBC news) to report on this forthcoming emergency LMC conference.....

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  • People took the message given by the doctors and waited = you can't blame the public all the time..there was also a knock on for in more appointments needed to catch up

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  • spot on!!

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  • High time!! wake up call LMC

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  • Nhsfatcat

    'I’m not burned out, but I am overwhelmed.'

    Thanks Doc, I've been searching for the description of what I feel about GP life.

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  • I am afraid it is a very fine line between overwhelmed and burnt out, I am not sure where I was in relation to this last year but it was enough for me to walk away after 22yrs of nine sessions a week aged 49yrs. Please be careful if this is how you truly feel, reduce hours if possible or you may end up having to leave. Good luck and remember that the NHS is doomed.

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  • Well that's my proposer speech written for the opening motion thank you Dr C😉

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  • That GP is me!

    Just left the so called "part time" partnership because I was doing full time work and still not able to finish.
    Working as a locum but exhausted. Routinely run 30 min behind. Practising defensive medicine. But at least those 30 min unpaid don't hurt so much as two days every week unpaid.

    And I can walk away from it all but with a sense of guilt as fuelling the domino effect. The remaining GPs in partnership roles are just waiting to drop off like me.

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  • reflects my situation uncannily accurately I just wish I was brave enough to put a reflection like this into my appraisal folder....-you ARE including this declaration in your next appraisal ?

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  • overwhelmed, burnt out, pissed off, grumpy, unenthusiastic, dissatisfied, but there is a light at the end of the tunnel, a free bus pass and retirement.

    I do hope there will be enough younger and enthusiatic colleagues left to look after me in my twilight years.

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From: Copperfield

Dr Tony Copperfield is a jobbing GP in Essex with more than a few chips on his shoulder