Mainstream media portrayals of GPs are overwhelmingly negative, and markedly worse than portrayals of hospital doctors, a study has found.
The thematic analysis, published by the BJGP, analysed 403 articles on GPs published in national newspapers in the year from October 2016. Researchers also analysed a representative sample of 100 articles on hospital doctors.
The researchers, from the University of Oxford, assigned codes to themes that featured repeatedly across the sample. They then grouped articles by code, to quantify patterns in the coverage.
The paper concluded that GPs are portrayed as responsible for the strain on general practice, whereas hospital doctors are seen as resisting Government cuts.
More than 25% of articles described a workforce crisis in general practice, highlighting the number of experienced GPs leaving jobs, the difficulty recruiting GPs, and the growing demand for part-time work.
Articles also depicted GPs as a barrier to patient access, criticising resistance to the rollout of longer practice hours, and championing larger surgeries and online consultation services, without highlighting potential drawbacks.
The researchers also found that GPs were presented as having personal vices or lacking virtues. One in seven articles focused on inappropriate behaviour by GPs, including domestic violence, sexual harassment and fraud.
GPs were presented as motivated by personal gain, greed and laziness, where hospital doctors were viewed as dutiful, hard-working and resilient, the researchers said.
The study concluded that though the strain on general practice is a legitimate concern, ‘almost without exception, newspaper articles framed this narrative in a particular way that reflected negatively on the GPs themselves’.
The paper said: ‘The traditional family doctor service was depicted as rapidly eroding through privatisation and fragmentation, with GPs portrayed as responsible for the crisis and the resulting negative impact on quality of care.’
The findings come as general practice faces severe pressures. Despite ongoing recruitment and retention issues, health secretary Matt Hancock told Pulse there was no new target date for recruiting 5,000 more GPs.