Dr Copperfield wonders why GPs get blamed for NHS woes despite standing in for striking ambulance workers and hospital colleagues
Of all the new normals they have these days – feckless politicians, bitchy Royals, Arsenal top of the league – perhaps the most notable is the collapsing NHS. No one bats an eyelid at the 8am stampede for GP appointments, the holding pattern of ambulances outside A&E or the excess death counts: unreliability and dysfunction now appear to be part of the NHS mission statement.
But while we’ve normalised the National Hopeless Service, we’ve polarised something else: the opinion of the public about who are the goodies and baddies within that system.
On the one hand, ambulance delays, hospital waiting lists and interminable waits in A&E are blamed on useless politicians. And on the other, the various and repeatedly aired ‘deficiencies’ of primary care are blamed on us GPs. In other words, despite pantomime season being over, hos docs, paramedics and nurses are cast as the angels of mercy while we’re hissed at for being villains. Why?
True, unlike those in secondary care, we’re self-employed, and therefore theoretically more responsible for our own services. But in practice, we know this is an illusion – and besides, it’s a technicality largely lost on the public and media.
Maybe it’s a Covid hangover, with the public still livid because of their misconception of us shutting up shop while they happy-clapped the real NHS heroes. Yet much of secondary care also appeared to go AWOL in the pandemic and even now, many hospital clinics still run remotely while we long ago defaulted back to F2F.
Perhaps it’s those emotive images of fractured old ladies groaning through a 24-hour wait for an ambulance, and the hordes bedding down on A&E floors until relief finally comes through triage or coma. But our waiting rooms are overflowing, too. And if you want real pathos, check out the endless queues of sick supplicants outside your local surgery’s front door next Monday morning.
So maybe it’s just the bad old media distorting, moulding and poisoning the view of the public. This is something they do very well, after all. Then again, they’ve been doing it for years, but I don’t recall GP stock ever being quite this low.
Which means maybe it’s something else. Perhaps the answer lies in something a patient said to me the other day when the subject of the NHS strikes came up. You might think the fact we’re still manning the front line while others are waving ‘more dosh’ placards would score us brownie points. But no. As he pointed out about medics and paramedics manning the picket lines, ‘At least it shows they care’. The implication being, of course, that our lack of militancy is typical of our don’t-give-a-toss attitude.
Ouch. No one likes us because they think we don’t care. Worse still, it wasn’t that long ago that our USP was being the caring, human constant in an otherwise faceless, distant and robotic NHS. The patient’s advocate: remember that? The pandemic, the disintegration of our role and the death of continuity seem to have put paid to that, certainly in the public’s eyes, and hell hath no fury like a patient scorned.
So either we go out on strike ourselves or we start hugging the punters, and let’s face it, neither of those is going to happen.
Which I think means we’re stuffed.
Dr Copperfield is a GP in Essex. Read more of his blogs here