I’m writing this column about Covid vaccination with some trepidation. Not because I’m afraid of needles, or because I’m a swivel-eyed antivaxxer convinced I’m being injected with a tracking microchip (why would they bother? They know I spend all my time at work).
No. It’s just I’m praying that as-yet unreleased data don’t reveal the jab to be a turkey, partly because that’ll ruin everyone’s Christmas, but mainly because it would ruin this column.
Anyway, the most amazing thing about this vaccine – apart from the mind-boggling speed of its development, the monumental size of the immunisation task and the incredible reward of a might-just-break-even 12 quid per jab – is that what’s preoccupying many of my colleagues is the possibility of bad PR. By which they mean that declining to get involved with the nitty-gritty of jab giving will look worse than confirming the mercenary stereotype of GPs who are ‘too busy’ until someone waves money at us.
So practices have got to sign up the enhanced service, the handwringers say, not because of an ethical duty, but because it’ll look sooooo bad if we don’t.
Hmmm. Bad PR. As opposed to what – all that good PR we get? You really believe that, last spring, the rainbow painters were clapping for you? You really think that every time politicians are wheeled out to thank the NHS for doing a marvellous job, they’re not hissing ‘except those bloody GPs’ between their teeth?
And you really suppose that, even if we all spend 25 December jabbing away in the GP grotto with little helpers (at cost) from the Elf service, any of the punters will remember as they fill in their resurrected Friends and Family Test around Easter?
How much worse could our public profile be? Remember, according to newspapers/columnists/politicians, we’ve spent the entire pandemic shut, or giving the impression we’re shut, or putting up barriers to the impression we’re open.
We’ve been twiddling our thumbs while A&E and ITU burned. If you don’t believe me, take another look at the ‘Doctors here don’t give a shit’ graffiti daubed on that surgery wall – which could just as easily have been scrawled on yours. Or even mine, if the spelling was worse.
So do we need some massive, pro-GP public relations exercise? Frankly, I wouldn’t bother. This venom, like this virus, will pass. Why? I’ve always found my most vehement complaints come from those who’d previously put me on a pedestal: the bigger you are, the harder you fall, and hell hath no fury like a patient spurned. Yep, the most enduring doctor-patient relationship can go awry when their charming doc is no longer their lucky charm.
In time, the transformation to remote consulting will render us literally faceless. And patients won’t invest in a relationship with someone who’s just a voice on a phone. The more distant the bond, the less likely that passions, or tempers, will rise: who seriously bothers to complain about a call handler?
So I predict the bad PR will be blunted by apathy. Mind you, with that tracking microchip, they’ll know where you live.
Dr Tony Copperfield is a GP in Essex. Read more of Copperfield’s blogs at http://www.pulsetoday.co.uk/views/copperfield