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GP leaders attack ‘humiliating’ NHS news stories

Doctors’ leaders have hit out at unbalanced media coverage for subjecting GPs and NHS staff to daily ‘public humiliation’ while ignoring the health service’s successes .

Speaking at a Westminster Health Forum event today Dr Clare Gerada, chair of the RCGP and a GP in Kennington and Dr Hamish Meldrum, chair of the BMA, said the barrage of media stories attacking NHS care was ‘running down’ health service morale and ignored the good work being done by the vast majority  of GPs and their NHS colleagues. 

The robust defence came in response to a questioner who accused Dr Gerada and Dr Meldrum of being ‘smug’ for championing doctors a time when reports were highlighting the failings in the NHS. The questioner highlighted the recent Dispatches documentary, ‘Can you trust your doctor?’, which claimed to have ‘uncovered concerning evidence of misdiagnosis’ by GPs, after secretly filming consultations. Dr Gerada said she felt the programme was unbalanced.

‘Every single week those of us working in the NHS have to face the public humiliation of the media telling us how bad we are. Day in, day out we are told how bad we are, how terrible we are and do you know what? It grinds,’ Dr Gerada said.

‘Of course we can improve – I spend my every waking day trying to improve the system. If you’re saying examples like the Dispatches programme. Well I gave one hour 20 minutes evidence to Dispatches and do you know how much they showed? None of it.’ 

‘So please don’t use Dispatches against us – use the evidence. We know that the NHS delivers safe, effective, value for money care. Of course it can be improved but please don’t call us smug, we are trying our best day in day out.’

Dr Meldrum, chair of the BMA, said: ‘I am the first to condemn any cases of bad practice, poor quality care. But I think we have the media we have and they do tend to concentrate on the bad news stories.’

‘There are a lot of good news stories about the NHS. You look at any healthcare system where GPs have 300 million consultations a year – yes we won’t get them all right. That is not smugness. Can we not just concentrate all the time on the bad stories and running down a healthcare system which, in international terms, is doing better than most and is cheaper than most?’

The defence comes as academics claimed that the Government were ‘happier’ with negative coverage of the NHS, as it could be used to justify its controversial shake-up of the health service. Professor Colin Pritchard, a health academic at Bournemouth University, made the claim after publishing research showing that the NHS helped achieve the biggest drop in cancer deaths and the most efficient use of resources among 10 countries, including the USA.

Professor Pritchard told the Guardian: ‘David Cameron and Andrew Lansley are happier with NHS “bad news” stories rather than, as our research shows, that we should celebrate the NHS which, in monetary terms, is vastly superior to the private healthcare system of the USA.’