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Independents' Day

Soap box: GPC needs PR guru to lead fight

Dr Mohamed Roshan, a GP in Leicester, bemoans the lack of PR savvy that has left GPs powerless to fight Government spin against the profession

Dr Mohamed Roshan, a GP in Leicester, bemoans the lack of PR savvy that has left GPs powerless to fight Government spin against the profession

There has been a media frenzy on the unfortunate case of the McCanns. Quite aside from the human tragedy, one couldn't help but notice how media savvy the couple have been. First, initial reporting of the case was refocused from blaming the parents for leaving their children unattended onto the search for the missing child. More recently, within hours of them being named as suspects by Portuguese police, they had put a PR guru on the case. Within days the national papers, and not just the tabloids, were reporting how the police in Portugal had mishandled previous missing child cases and speculating on the possibility that they have wrongly accused parents of missing children before to hide their own incompetence.

Fat cats

Contrast all of this with the past 12 months in the GP story. It started with the Government leaking that GPs were being paid £250,000. This was later revised downwards but the public perception is that we are the new fat cats.

Increases in productivity and improvements in patient care have been dismissed with comments that ‘the service was improving anyway'.

Even the failure of out-of-hours services has somehow been blamed on GPs, even though we have not been responsible for the service.

Despite meeting Government targets, GPs have been repeatedly criticised over patient access – with a huge PR campaign increasing the perception that surgeries should be open longer.

These are not just academic arguments – on the back of the ‘overpaid' story we have had our pay frozen for two years. How can we retaliate if the perception is that we are overpaid?

The failure of the out-of-hours service has been used to publicise the question of improved access, with the result that some GPs are already opening later in the evenings and bearing the cost themselves. So much for the ‘no more work without increased pay' promise that persuaded us to sign up to the new contract.

Abysmal response

The response from the GPC has been abysmal. There has been no countering the Government PR machinery. As with the contract negotiations, they have been arrogant enough not to use a

PR guru. As a result we are always paddling upstream against the tide of public opinion.

Thus, despite being part of the profession the public trusts most and is most satisfied with,

we are losing out in a PR campaign against politicians – who are way down the list for public popularity.

PR is important and always has been. When are our leaders going to take up a campaign on our behalf that highlights the improvement in primary care; the cost effectiveness of the UK general practice system (contrast the £53 per patient global sum payment we get per year with the £75 that a single visit to A&E costs the NHS); and the fragmentation of the NHS that is currently taking place.

PR gurus know how to place all this in context and illustrate it with cases that would put public perception back in our favour and give us a better footing to counter the Government.

This will be more than useful when the Government decides to re-distribute the global sum with more losers than winners, make our MPIG payments dependent on new opening-hours targets and, worst of all, give half of our work to private contractors at twice the cost. And still blame us when it all goes pear-shaped.

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