Exclusive More than 60% of GPs in England surveyed earlier this month viewed the Government’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic negatively, including more than a quarter viewing it ‘very negatively’.
This is compared with only 35% viewing the Government’s response as negatively in April (including 17% very negatively).
This also compares poorly with the devolved nations, where only 21% of respondents from Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland viewed their governments’ respective responses negatively (though with a much smaller sample size).
But there were other major factors in GPs turning against the Government. First, GPs felt that the Government had eased lockdown measures too easily, and with a lot of confusion. In early June, ministers announced that shielded patients would be able to leave the house, and that people would be allowed to form ‘bubbles’, seeing select people outside their household.
Around 71% said these lockdown measures were eased too early – including 25% who said ‘far too early’. This compares with 17% (8% ‘far too quickly’) in the devolved nations.
Dr Shazia Ovaisi, a GP in Wandsworth, said the response was: ‘A very laissez faire and defeatist approach. They didn’t act soon enough and it feels like the plan is to let the virus spread through the population. It is literally a case of survival of the fittest, which is an awful public health approach.’
Another big factor was the Prime Minister’s defence of his adviser, Dominic Cummings, who drove his symptomatic family to Durham. More than 80% of GPs said the Cummings affair has made people less likely to follow Government advice – including 58% saying ‘much less likely’.
The GP Survival group even wrote a letter signed by more than 300 GPs to Durham Constabulary, asking the police to investigate, saying: ‘[GPs] have advised many patients and their families over this period of the need to remain locked down at home…we are concerned that these allegations against Mr Cummings, unless resolved, will serve to undermine the public health interventions required to prevent further unnecessary deaths.’
Many felt that general practice suffered as a result of the Government’s response.
Dr Zishan Syed, a GP partner in Kent, said: ‘The UK Government’s response has been poor, with little interest in the welfare of frontline clinicians. There was the manipulation of guidelines so that we use substandard PPE. Then the government censored the BAME risk review. And [health secretary Matt] Hancock’s comment about watching “tone” of language to a clinican challenging him in parliament summarises what the government wants: blind obedience that can actually cost you your life. I have lost all faith in them.’
Dr Rebecca Qualtrough, a GP partner in Cumbria, said: ‘We should have shut down earlier. Very limited advice to primary care. PPE was inadequate. There was an inexcusable poor response to care home crisis. Too much focus on hospitals not enough on the community.’
There is also a fear that the Government’s major plan for the future – test, trace and isolate – won’t be enough. More than half of GPs – 55% – said the plans won’t stop the spread of the virus.
The Pulse survey was conducted between 5 and 9 June, collating responses using the SurveyMonkey tool. The 31 questions asked covered a wide range of GP topics, to avoid selection bias on one issue. A total of 681 GPs answered these questions, including 605 GPs based in England and 76 based in the devolved nations. The survey was advertised to our readers via our website and email newsletter, with a prize draw for £100 John Lewis vouchers as an incentive to complete the survey.