The former deputy chief executive of NHS England has suggested that negative comments from an ‘RCGP president’ about the job being ‘s***’ hampered GP recruitment.
The RCGP told Pulse they are ‘shocked, upset, and extremely disappointed’ by these ‘unprovoked comments’, and said the college will call for an apology.
Speaking on a panel at the King’s Fund conference yesterday, Matthew Swindells said that he was previously responsible for delivering the Government’s target of recruiting 5,000 more GPs and that the RCGP president would question him on progress.
Mr Swindells said that at the time he suggested to the former RCGP president that they ‘stopped going on the Today programme’ to talk about the negative aspects of being a GP. He did not name a specific individual and the RCGP told Pulse that as the presidency role is ‘ceremonial’, it is ‘unlikely’ a conversation like this would have taken place with an RCGP president.
Rowing back on the comments today, Mr Swindells today told Pulse he actually cannot remember who the conversation was with, as it was ‘several years ago’, and it ‘could’ have even been ‘a BMA leader’.
He added: ‘The point was that the NHS needs to avoid talking itself down because it becomes self fulfilling.’
He had been speaking yesterday as part of a wider discussion about how to change public perceptions of working in health and social care. Mr Swindells, who is now the chair of the North West London Acute Provider Collaborative, said NHS staff talk themselves down and ‘underrate the brand’.
He told the conference audience: ‘I do think there is something about the way we collectively talk about roles in health and care.
‘And to use an analogy of GPs, I used to be responsible for the 5,000-more-GPs target that the Government invented. And I’d have the Royal College of GPs president come into my office and go “why haven’t you recruited 5,000 more GPs?”.
‘And I said “well, I heard you on the Today programme this morning saying that being a GP is a s*** life, and we work so hard and nobody values us and our patients are all horrible. If you stopped going on the Today programme saying that no one in their right mind wants to be a GP” […]’
Mr Swindells added: ‘We underrate the brand and we talk ourselves down. If you were out there working for a company that manufactured missiles, you wouldn’t be going round saying “this is a really s*** place to work”.
‘You’d be going “I’m really proud that we’re working with the newest technology”. We are extraordinary for talking ourselves down.’
In response to the remarks, RCGP chair Professor Kamila Hawthorne said: ‘We’ll need to find out more about the comments attributed to Matthew Swindells but we are shocked, upset, and extremely disappointed that the College has been referenced in this way at a public conference.’
She added: ‘Once again, it seems that GPs have been singled out and blamed for all that’s wrong with the NHS. Unprovoked remarks such as this only serve to highlight the issues we are facing.
‘We will be taking this further and calling for an apology to the College and, most importantly, to all the hardworking and dedicated GPs who are trying their best for their patients in increasingly difficult circumstances.’
The comments are ‘ironic’, Professor Hawthorne said, given that ‘only two weeks ago at our annual conference, I called for an end to what I described as the demonisation of hard-working GPs’.
‘We should be heaping praise on our brilliant colleagues, who continue to provide innovative and comprehensive care to their patients. We should not be criticising them and demoralising them even further.’
It is the RCGP’s ‘responsibility’, as ‘the largest medical Royal College, representing over 54,000 GPs across the UK’, to’ talk up the profession and the stimulating and fulfilling career that general practice can offer’, she said.
Adding: ‘We want to attract doctors to become GPs and to join us. Being a GP can be, and indeed IS, the best job in the world, but the lack of ongoing resource, with little or no workforce planning, means that general practice has been struggling for many years.’
But, as the general practice profession is experiencing its ‘worst-ever crisis’, it would be ‘dishonest and disingenuous’ for the RCGP to say otherwise, she said.
Former health secretary Jeremy Hunt first made the pledge for 5,000 more GPs by 2020 in 2014, but four years later he admitted he was ‘struggling to deliver’ on the promise.
In 2019, the Conservative Party manifesto included a pledge to recruit 6,000 more GPs by 2025, but former health secretary Sajid Javid confirmed in 2021 they would fail to meet this target and it was later dropped from the health secretary’s brief.