Dr Lisa Finnikin on the straw that broke the camel’s back
Yesterday, when we spoke on the phone, you were frustrated. A referral we had made had not come to fruition. Our practice had taken appropriate actions to get input from secondary care. I explained this. I acknowledged your frustration and apologised on several occasions.
You were worried about the delay, which was totally understandable, because the appointment was for your child. As a mother, I wholeheartedly support your right to advocate for your child. However, my acknowledgements and apologies felt unheard.
In the end, I explained that reporting your concerns to me was not the best way of feeding back to the practice and
I was going to suggest you wrote the practice a letter detailing the issues, which would provide actionable feedback.
You became angry and raised your voice. Why had we GPs been sitting behind our desks not doing anything during the pandemic, you wanted to know.
‘This is not the case,’ I reassured you. ‘We have been working extremely hard.’
I let you know that if you continued to raise your voice, I would hang up. You told me that was ‘just what you’d expect from a GP’. Your frustrated rant continued. I explained that I was going to hang up. I pressed the ‘end call’ button.
Then I wept.
What you couldn’t possibly have known was that your phone call was the straw that broke the camel’s back. I was a mess. I couldn’t continue my surgery. My colleagues rallied round. They cancelled my afternoon clinic and sent me home.
The week before our interaction had been one of the most challenging of my career. Over two days, I had worked for 23 out of 48 hours. General practice workload is currently unmanageable.
We are working in unfamiliar ways, dictated by the pandemic. In addition to the tidal wave of administrative tasks, I spend up to eight hours on the phone, in a room alone, my headset on, listening, concentrating, being compassionate and taking in the problems and concerns of my patients.
I’m acutely aware that patients are having difficulty getting through on the phone, so I know how precious the appointment they have made with me is. What if this is truly the only opportunity this patient has to tell their story and to be heard?
I start each conversation mindful of this and ready to give everyone my undivided attention. In truth, I don’t always manage – it’s emotionally exhausting. I cannot rely on the normal cues and information that can be gleaned from looking someone in the eye.
I’m working harder to collect the same information. I still need to know enough to make a safe clinical decision and do the right thing for my patients – I’m exhausted. I and many of those around me cannot keep up the pace. Not because we’re failing – although on many days it does feel that way – but because what is expected is a relentless superhuman effort.
I’m not superhuman. My name is Lisa Finnikin, and I’m just a human. I’m a GP, and I believe that I am a damn good one. I cannot work like this any longer. Last week, I made the decision to cut the number of clinical sessions I work.
It’s not right that my career, however vocational, should impact negatively on my life outside work. (I’m very aware of my privilege in being able to make the choice to work less and therefore, earn less.) The system is broken. People are breaking inside the system.
So my plea to the frustrated patients out there is this. Stop and pause before you direct your frustration to a human working in healthcare who is likely to be both trying their very best and struggling to keep their head above water. Channel your frustration for good. If you want change, write to your MP, start a petition or provide your practice with constructive feedback through appropriate channels.
I also make a plea to the section of the media that persistently trolls general practice, spreading unfounded rumours and fuelling discontent. Please, pause and consider the doctors, nurses, healthcare assistants, phlebotomists, receptionists, admin staff, managers and cleaners, who are all just humans. Humans who will be there helping you and your family when you next need us.
Help protect us so we can continue to care for you.
Dr Lisa Finnikin is a salaried GP in the West Midlands. Details have been changed to protect confidentiality