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Home truths from Chesterfield

There will be a new and unlikely name to add to Pulse’s annual Villains of the Year list. Among the Johnsons, the Hancocks and the coronaviral pangolins, there will be the Suzannes from Chesterfields. Because, the other day, during a Government briefing, Suzanne from Chesterfield appeared to shaft we GPs. Specifically, she stated: ‘We are seeing large numbers of patients referred to the emergency department because their GP or dentist are refusing face to face consultations.’

Subsequently, Suzanne from Chesterfield was apparently unmasked as a Professor of emergency medicine at the University of Sheffield, or at least she would have been if she actually had any PPE. Cue reflex GP uproar and equally predictable ‘GPs are doing an absolutely fantastic job’ from that lovely Chris Whitty, showing that Profs can be nice, too.

And yes, Suzanne of Chesterfield, on the face of it this does appear anecdotal, lopsided and underhand, with perhaps a naive acceptance that patients might twist a lack of F2F into a surfeit of TTFO. But, like most things that induce apoplectic GP splutterings, it also contains a germ of truth.

The truth hurts, though not so much that we’d take it to A&E

Consider this. We GPs work along a spectrum. For all I know, some have coped with the Covid crisis by erecting ‘business as usual’ signs. Whereas, at the other extreme, yes, I have heard of some who really are refusing F2F – either because of ‘no PPE/no see’ or simply because that’s the way they have decided to cope.

Most of us sit somewhere between these polarities and that’s where I reckon you’d locate me. But even as a ‘moderate’, I’m aware that my opening remote consultation line is: ‘Sorry we’re having to do this by remote, but I’m sure you understand the situation.’

In other words, while I do occasionally see punters F2F, that may not be the impression I give them. And that’s the problem. Their perception is that we’re closed, or more specifically, virtually closed. Those who do ‘consult’ may not be happy with the remote outcome, and you can guess where they might end up. And if we’re honest, we’d probably admit that our new way of working will inevitably lower our threshold for bouncing people in the direction of A&E.

So the Prof has a point. A tiny part of the problem is that the remote consulting pendulum may have swung too far. And a huge part of is the public’s confusion about the current status of general practice and some dissatisfaction with its new modus operandi.

Time and tweaks will fix those – plus we have a duty to let the public know that we’re dealing with everything, as per usual, but we’re dealing with it in a different way, so make sure your phone’s charged and don’t go to the loo when I’m trying to call.

In the meantime, let’s go easy on a doubtless knackered and stressed emergency medicine prof. And admit that, hey, the truth hurts, though not so much that we’d take it to A&E.

Dr Tony Copperfield is a GP in Essex. Read more of Copperfield’s blogs at