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Dear frustrated patient


Long Covid burnout


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

READERS' COMMENTS [6]

Patrufini Duffy 12 January, 2021 2:50 pm

Hope for rest and peace. Poignant and very real. Churns ones stomach. This country has created an unparalleled, sickening, self-destructive approach to it’s healthcare system and staff. The trying doers are the criticised, interrogated and stabbed. That complaints leaflet, the feedback addiction, the appraisal (including complaints section), the shadows of regulators, the self-entitlement to consult you within 1 day, immediately, and with endless empathy, kindness and compassion. It is not you. You are a damn good doctor. It is the soil and air in the UK – it is stale, unappreciative, wanting (not needing), condescending and lacks an iotre of awareness and global perspective of who we are, and what it is to help someone. Be doctor-centered. It is the best way. The less we give the more we gain within ourselves (that’s the secret they don’t want you to know). The solicitor, accountant, banker and dentist mastered it. And society respects them. Forgot the indoctrination “they” keep serving you, as if you’re a meagre, mindless, mediocre. You’re not. None of us are.

Turn out The lights 12 January, 2021 3:46 pm

Spot on PD shame about the RCGP/BMA etal going back the their abusive masters life an abused dog to ask for more abuse.It is about time we bit back,until then look after you and yours as no one else will. This is an abusive relationship time to walk away.

End Game 13 January, 2021 2:02 pm

This is happening up and down the country.

You give the best of you…its not enough

You give your heart and soul…..its not enough

You give you wellbeing…..its not enough

Time to walk away.

Katharine Morrison 13 January, 2021 2:51 pm

Lisa, you have done the right thing by cutting your hours. The next time a patient starts to get angry with you, explain that it is not within your ability to solve their problem and put the phone down. This is a marathon not a sprint.

Humayra Abedin 14 January, 2021 10:23 am

Glad to hear someone echoed our inner anguish, our own stress, our difficulty to cope with such scenario but what is the way forward? We can put the phone down to angry & aggressive abusive patients, they still complain & we end up wasting more of our valuable time in replying, not to mention that adds up to our anguish. I wish there were sustainable solutions to protect us from situations which we face on a regular basis & we accept it as normal as a part of our coping mechanism and try to move on because we are told to move on, no matter what.
We then either take it back home or reduce our clinical sessions or carry on ignoring our own red flags that we should address collectively.
We need permanent solutions which should send signals to patients as well.
NHS zero tolerance policy exists in paper only in some areas of England.

Katharine Morrison 16 January, 2021 4:03 pm

I agree Humayra and it is extremely difficult to remove patients from your list no matter how abusive they are.