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Journal publishes study into Pulse readers’ comments on GP news

University researchers have analysed hundreds of Pulse comments to understand GPs’ views on health policy changes.

The study, published in the BJGP, found that GPs feel ‘criticised, undermined, and attacked’ by the Government and patients, as well as ‘let down’ by professional organisations such as the BMA and RCGP.

Researchers from the University of Manchester analysed 300 comments published on Pulse articles between January 2012 and March 2016.

They found that among commenters there was consensus that general practice was ‘under-resourced and stretched’, and that GPs were often ‘working to meet demand for access in a pressured environment’. 

However opinion was divided in terms of who to blame, with the government and patients both being mentioned.

Contributors also resented the constraints on their freedom to practice, which they said have been ‘imposed by excessive bureaucracy’ and a pressure to meet ‘patient demands’.

Additionally many comments suggested that rather than being respected, GPs now felt ‘criticised, undermined, and attacked’ not only by the government, but by the private sector and patients. 

However, while numerous contributors expressed very little possibility of positive change, others called for GPs to stand up and ‘take back control’.

Study author Professor Damian Hodgson, a professor of organisational analysis at the University of Manchester, said: ‘Given the huge pressure on general practice currently, there is a real need to ensure that the voice of GPs is heard, and in particular to hear a variety of voices within the field and the profession.

‘The level of discontent found among GP commentators to the Pulse is perhaps not surprising; what is more striking is the degree of powerlessness and frustration expressed by rank and file GPs.’

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The analysis also revealed a sense of ‘being let down’ by professional organisations such as the RCGP and BMA. 

GPs expressed ‘disappointment and lack of faith’ in the ability of these organisations to ‘protect the welfare of GPs or meet their needs’ in terms of their wellbeing and professionally.

A BMA spokesperson said: ‘While member satisfaction with the BMA remains high we recognise the frustrations felt by many GPs, and more needs to be done by government to tackle the pressures caused by rising demand and increasing workloads.

‘The BMA is committed to representing and negotiating on behalf of doctors across the UK and the recent successful negotiation of the 2018/19 GP contract in England, which secured £256 million to address practice pressures, builds on our progress from the last two years to provide stability to practices at a time when it is needed the most.’

A spokesperson for the RCGP said: ‘The BJGP is an independent academic journal and the authors are entitled to their opinions. The college will continue to campaign on the issues that matter most to frontline GPs, including wellbeing, workload and workforce, and to support all our members in their care of patients.’

The paper concluded that the ‘ambivalence’ shown by GPs deserves ‘further attention’ as it could potentially shape responses to further change in primary care in ‘unpredictable ways’.

It added that these findings could also ‘help guide policymakers and professional leaders in their GP workforce endeavours’.

Earlier this month the Government revealed that nearly 700 GPs have sought early retirement due to ill health since 2010.

Health minister Steve Brine said that over 5,000 GPs retired before the age of 60 between 2009/10 and 2016/17, with 684 of these being due to ill health and 4,753 down to voluntary retirement.

GPs’ views of health policy changes: a qualitative ‘netnography’ study of UK general practice online magazine commentary; BGJP, 23 April