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2013: The year in review

The Paul Dacre award for endearing yourself to GPs

Source: Alamy

With GPs getting the special Daily Mail treatment throughout 2013 (sample banner headline: ‘The GPs who don’t even know your name’), editor Paul Dacre came close to scooping his own award, but in the end there could only be one winner. In August Jeremy Hunt cheerfully described himself as the ‘most pro-GP health secretary’ in 50 years, and even as GPs’ collective jaws dropped, he set about proving it. Whether imposing the 2013 contract, blaming general practice for the A&E crisis or promising the public routine appointments seven days a week, Mr Hunt’s love of the profession shone through at every turn. GPs can only hope his ardour dampens in 2014.  

Health minister and former junior doctor Dr Dan Poulter claims the runner-up prize. He followed his boss’s example of how to lose friends and alienate people – people within his own profession – by making the astonishing claim on Radio 4’s Today programme that the ‘GP out-of-hours system’ had been ‘scrapped’ following the 2004 contract. On the plus side, this did lead to one of Pulse’s quotes of the year.

And finally, a special mention for the runner-up to the runner-up, health minister Earl Howe, for his stated belief that GPs ‘take any excuse’ to keep appointments with patients ‘as short as possible’. (Eagle-eyed readers may be able to spot a pattern developing here.)

The Homeland award for long-running drama

The only contender on the shortlist for this award is the row over the differential pass rates of international medical graduates and UK graduates in the MRCGP’s Clinical Skills Assessment – a row already raging this time last year and threatening to stretch well into 2014. What with a judicial review in the offing, a racism expert publishing two very differently worded versions of the same research on the same day and the RCGP claiming a paper in the BMJ was defamatory and demanding it be amended, there have certainly been plenty of twists and turns. The latest came when the BMA decided to help fund the legal challenge to the MRCGP – thus ensuring that the many GPs who are members of both the BMA and RCGP are now funding both sides of an increasingly expensive legal wrangle. A resolution some time this side of the World Cup would be nice…

The Demob-happy award

Over the course of her three-year stint as chair of the RCGP, Professor Clare Gerada did a sterling job fighting GPs’ corner, and every time she spoke up on behalf of the profession she seemed to have an instinctive grasp of what the average coalface GP would want her to say. So her call in her final address to the college’s annual conference for a rethink of the independent contractor model caught almost everyone by surprise. It may not have been the most popular suggestion – the GPC, her successor Dr Maureen Baker and a majority of grassroots GPs surveyed all immediately disagreed – but Professor Gerada certainly knows how to go out with a bang.

The New Broom award

With Professor Gerada stepping down, a new Chief Inspector of General Practice and the changing of the guard at NHS England, there were lots of new faces among the great and the good this year. But none has had as immediate an impact as Dr Chaand Nagpaul. After smoothly emerging from a crowded field to be elected as new GPC chair in July, Dr Nagpaul shook up the GPC’s communications strategy, launched a vision for the future of general practiceand wrapped up a controversial but generally well-received contract deal, all by the end of November. The bar has been set high for 2014 – anything short of a double-digit pay rise and abolition of the CQC will be considered a disappointment.

The Big Brother All-Seeing Eye award

As the Francis Inquiry report put the standards of doctors and managers under unprecedented scrutiny, the GMC’s contribution was to tackle what was clearly the major issue of the day – the scourge of doctors blogging and tweeting anonymously. Stern new guidance insisted that ‘if you identify yourself as a doctor in publicly accessible social media, you should also identify yourself by name’. Pulse bloggers Copperfield and Jobbing Doctor were of course fully behind the move (names and addresses withheld).

The Chocolate Teapot award for unhelpful guidance

Despite the best efforts of its first GP chair, Professor David Haslam, NICE was always going to be a frontrunner for this gong. And it duly stepped up to the plate with an unexpected announcement in August that its advisers were ‘extremely concerned’ about the side-effects of paracetamol, and that it would be recommending against its use in new osteoarthritis guidance. ‘So what exactly is left?’ asked one GP on PulseToday after the news broke. ‘Rx: 1 hug and a cup of tea,’ suggested another.

The Malcolm Tucker Spin Doctor of the Year award

A runner-up for this long-running award in 2012, the Department of Health effortlessly wins it this year for its The Thick of It-style launch of the seven-day GP pilots. An extended opening hours scheme in Manchester was hailed as ‘leading the way’ by Jeremy Hunt and praised in the DH’s press release as being ‘successfully piloted’ – a line duly reported in national coverage. But local GPs told Pulse they were ‘mystified’ by the claims, given that the Manchester scheme won’t start seeing patients until Christmas.

‘A mistake’, the DH admitted, after pressure from Pulse. Mr Tucker might have put it more colourfully.

The Germaine Greer Feminist of the Year award

Striking a strong blow for equality, Conservative MP Anne McIntosh showed she could be every bit as insensitive as her male colleagues with her comments about female GPs in Parliament in June. She said in the ‘normal course of events [women] will marry and have children’, and added: ‘They often want to go part-time and it is obviously a tremendous burden training what effectively might be two GPs working part-time where they are ladies.’ Lady GPs everywhere were suitably unimpressed. ‘This is a very outdated view of women in the modern workplace’, said GPC member Dr Beth McCarron-Nash with commendable restraint.

The Hanging Chad award for organising a successful election

You’re organising the election of the successor to one of your most charismatic leaders ever; you absolutely have to get it right. Unfortunately, the RCGP didn’t seem to get the memo. It first awarded the position to Dr Maureen Baker after disqualifying her only opponent, Dr Steve Mowle, due to an unspecified ‘technical error’ – then reversed that decision and decided to re-run the election ‘in the interests of democracy’, only to elect Dr Baker for a second time. Awkward…

The Bah Humbug award for Christmas cheer

What with payments chaos, approximately 251 ongoing reviews of general practice and contract negotiations to deal with, NHS England was always going to struggle in a GP popularity contest this year, but its attempt to cancel Christmas was probably the final straw. Well, not cancel Christmas exactly – but its threat to hold practices in breach of contract if they close early on Christmas Eve or New Year’s Eve showed a distinct lack of festive spirit, not to mention understanding of the GMS contract. Fortunately NHS England now seems to be backpedalling. As Pulse went to press, Christmas is back on – for now at least.