GPs and health leaders have shared their intense frustration over the failure of the Government and NHS leaders to defend GPs against a series of attacks in some sections of the media.
A raft of critical articles on face-to-face appointments, access and GP working hours and pay have dismayed GPs who have spoken of their ‘extreme disappointment’ at the lack of support for the profession from NHS England.
The lack of response has even been noted by others with national leadership roles, with diabetes lead Professor Partha Kar calling on NHS England to ‘step up and refute’ the snipes being made against GPs.
In a tweet he called the attacks on GPs ‘a coordinated effort’ across a spectrum of media.
In response to calls for more support, NHS England director of primary care, Dr Nikki Kanani tweeted that she was ‘always listening – and always asking for the real narrative to be shared’.
It comes as a survey from the Medical Defence Union found that 79% of GPs said levels of abuse from patients had increased since the start of the pandemic.
A third of GP respondents said the cause of the abuse was appointment availability despite figures from the Health Foundation that the number of GP appointments reached a record high earlier this year.
Pulse reported in November that Dr Kanani said NHS England ‘can and will do more’ to explain to the public that GP practices are open.
In response to a direct question from Pulse on how this being done, a spokesperson for NHS England said: ‘Patients should of course be able to access the NHS services they need clinically and NHS staff should never be subjected to abuse for doing their job.’
They pointed to a range of resources that has been provided for practices to communicate with patients on how best to access services.
Discussions between the BMA and NHS England have been on pause since May after a vote of ‘no confidence’ by members over communication from NHS leaders.
Dr Mike Smith, a GP partner in Knebworth said the current negative headlines ‘means people are not looking at elective care or waiting lists’.
‘It suits NHS England at the moment to have that narrative out there.’
Dr Shan Hussain, a GP in Nottinghamshire said: ‘The lack of central support from NHS England during the GP crisis is extremely disturbing.
‘Coupled with their recent damaging press releases, it should come as no surprise that many GPs are losing confidence in their leadership. One can only hope they come to realise that without GPs, the NHS would cease to exist.’
Dr Grant Ingrams, a GP in Leicester said he was ‘extremely disappointed but not surprised’ in the lack of public support from NHS England or the Government ‘in response to the dreadful and upsetting lies and half truths peddled by various newspapers’.
‘The only outcome is to drive a further wedge between the public and general practice with decreased morale, and increased complaints and abuse.
‘I am not sure that even if a GP or a member of our staff came to significant physical harm as a direct consequence it would change the view of the right wing press.’
Dr Neena Jha, a GP in Hertfordshire said the current spate of anti-GP stories feel like a ‘deliberate and coordinated attack’.
‘It feels like there is an underlying agenda and it’s so demoralising when you’re seeing double the safe number of patients and you come home and see those articles. The damage has been done, patients for the first time are starting to believe it.’
The BMA, which recently launched a public campaign to support practices, said there had been repeated attempts in recent weeks and months – intensifying in the past few days – to attacked and disparage GPs in certain sections of the media, which they feared would have a lasting impact on morale, recruitment and retention.
Dr Richard Vautrey, BMA GP committee chair said: ‘GPs share and understand the frustration of patients who are struggling to be seen at their practice, but blaming individual GPs is unfair – and making hardworking family doctors scapegoats for years of Government failings is completely unacceptable.’
He added: ‘NHSE and the Government have a responsibility to the public to challenge this damaging and inaccurate narrative and restore confidence in GPs and all those who work with them.’
Dr Catherine Wills, deputy head of the MDU’s advisory services said: ‘There needs to be an open and frank public conversation about the current challenges facing the NHS.
‘Legitimate concerns need to be listened to, but patient expectations also need to be managed.
‘Government and healthcare leaders need to properly support those on the frontline doing their utmost for patients at this challenging time.’
A spokesperson for the Department of Health and Social Care said they had invested £270 million to expand GP capacity, on top of £1.5 billion for extra staff committed for general practices until 2023/24.
‘Thanks to the hard work and dedication of GPs and their teams, appointment numbers have returned to pre-pandemic levels, with GPs delivering more than 330 million appointments in the last year.
‘Tackling the backlog is a key priority, and we would encourage anyone who needs care or has a health concern to come forward for help.’