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At the heart of general practice since 1960

GP? I’d rather be known as a primary care consultant

Wallsend GP Dr Pipin Singh argues that, as general practice changes, so should the name of the job

The GP role is changing drastically. As a profession, we are expected to see anywhere between thirty to fifty patients a day more often than not to deal with multiple health problems, undertake house calls, see ‘urgent extras’, manage repeat prescriptions, and action letters from secondary care. No doubt this will increase in number with the more options that become available to patients. The list of tasks goes on, while funding and resources have stopped.

I have been a General Practitioner now for three years and I have seen a significant change in the role of the GP in this time. Work is continuously being placed into our hands, whether from secondary care, tertiary care or the community itself. In England, GPs remain frontline clinicians but now manage more complexity than ever before. The population is ageing and with this comes increased morbidity, polypharmacy, and demand for resources but also heightened public expectation about what can and cannot be offered.

The impression I got of general practice as a medical student was that the profession was a ‘second choice’, a less desirable speciality, and one lacking in excitement - something echoed by a young Pulse blogger recently. I suspect the impression from our secondary care clinical colleagues is similar.

But this impression has to change soon - 75% of consultations in the NHS take place in primary care and GPs are now central to resource allocation, despite poor recruitment to the profession.

The last ‘holistic’ doctors

The term ‘GP’ has been around for a number of decades; however the role has changed significantly from that of a clinician that just treats minor illness, provides ‘sick notes’ and refers, to a more complex, dynamic role of treating patients with all minor illnesses, most chronic illnesses and managing multiple complex comorbidities in conjunction with polypharmacy, complex social problems and end of life care.

We are aware of services in the community and hospitals and we appear, possibly, to be the last holistic clinicians left. We know a lot of our patients well - what medically they have had done already, what they may want done and what we think they should have done. We negotiate this with patients and try to be guided by the patient, where appropriate as much as possible.

If we can make medical students realise this early on, then we may have more scope of recruiting new doctors into the profession. A name change would be a big help in allowing medical students and even qualified doctors to realise the complicated role that general practitioners now perform.

So I propose the term primary care consultant. This term reflects the role of a GP as someone with detailed knowledge of their patients’ health needs, alongside a comprehensive detailed insight into primary care, its operations, and its critical role within an ever-complicated 21st century NHS.

Any better ideas?

Dr Pipin Singh is a GP in Wallsend, Tyne and Wear.

Readers' comments (23)

  • Far from being second choice a GP (or Doctor as the vast majority of the general public call them) is perhaps the most challenging of all career choices - to be a jack of all trades takes far more than to specialise in one field. There should be far more emphasis on how important this role is - who really cares on the title of the provider as long as they perform their role with skill and empathy?

    Instead of thinking up a new title concentrate your energies on publicising the positives about the role of a GP - it will provide far more benefit in the long term than renaming the role.

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  • "The term ‘GP’ has been around for a number of decades"

    A couple of centuries more like. When the term was coined most GPs were apothecary-surgeons and did not have a medical degree.

    I prefer the term primary care physician which is understood internationally. However this issue comes around every few years and most GPs want to stay GPs.

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  • I think the phrase consultant needs to be somewhere in the title - to highlight the level of practice that a GP is performing at.

    I agree with primary care consultant.

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  • Maybe, but 'consultant' is not limited to doctors. Can a band 8 nurse practitioner call herself a primary care consultant? If not, why not?

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  • I believe patients understand "consultant" to mean "specialist" and think we can get by nicely with just Dr thanks.

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  • Ok, face it, it's just a psychological crutch to make YOU feel better about what you do.
    Patients, all the hospital staff who look down on the GP etc. will not change their thinking on our job.
    Sorry to poop the party.

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  • I agree that people who have already formed ideas will not change their thoughts, but such a 'rebranding' might just cause the next generation of the public, medical students and secondary care colleagues to have a little more respect for what we do. Absolutely this renaming would make us feel better about ourselves - what on earth is wrong with that? Surely a workforce which is more proud of itself is a more productive and effective one? It'll take far more than that to stem the critical haemorrhage of experienced GPs currenty but rebranding might slowly adjust attitudes and hopefully with that might come a realisation about the level of funding required for this pivotal role to achieve the best outcomes for patients.

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  • Consultant in family medicine?

    The RCGP seems to use family medicine and family doctors when talking about general practice outside the UK.

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  • I would avoid using 'family' in the title - we look after plenty of individuals who may be living alone, and not in close touch with their family so would alienate them...

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  • As long as we inform the public when they are seen by someone who is medically trained or not.

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