The current narrative of GPs across the country is one of despair, frustration and despondency that I’ve never seen before. It’s been deeply saddening to hear colleagues share their plight and anguish of how this past year has been, working through the pandemic.
When we had to close our doors to patients at the beginning of the first lockdown, it was only to enable access by other means – something we all knew would eventually evolve in primary care. But never had we envisaged it happening so quickly, and under such circumstances.
Our practice never closed. We’ve continued to manage our 15,000 patients – the young; the old; the pregnant; those who were acutely ill or chronically unwell, through both telephone and video consultations.
Those who have required a face-to-face review have always been seen. We’ve had to accept these new ways of working, knowing that they’re not ideal but are intended to ensure our patients are being managed in the safest way possible.
For the many who lost loved ones and couldn’t visit families, it was their GP, a familiar voice, who was so often the main source of comfort and support.
Our social prescribing teams have continued to be an immense source of support for our elderly, frail and vulnerable patients when uncertainty and anxiety were paramount in all of our lives.
Primary care never ceased to function in its role to support and care for its local community. The Covid vaccination roll-out is just another example of the additional workload that’s come our way and how GPs have risen to the challenge of meeting these targets alongside everything else.
We know the pressures that our secondary care colleagues are facing – we have seen the plight of ITU staff and tried at every step to do whatever has been in our capacity to support a healthcare system that’s at the brink of collapse.
We’ve had to learn to work in ways that most of us were unfamiliar with – let alone felt comfortable with – and acquaint ourselves with technology we’d never used before. We’ve had to make difficult decisions with our patients, justifying our management plan in accordance with what’s both right and safe for them.
Throughout this, many GPs have been dealing with their own losses and illness, with many colleagues being taken seriously ill with Covid themselves.
As lockdown restrictions ease, and Britain opens up once again, nothing will have changed for the thousands of GPs who continue to take the brunt of all that this pandemic has left us with – the exceedingly worrying levels of mental health crisis we’re facing; the rising number of cancer cases; and the significant delays in routine operations, alongside the tiredness, exhaustion and mental and physical fatigue that’s taken its toll on so many.
To say that all practices must enable face-to-face access is both unreasonable and unsafe. Patients should continue to be triaged safely, with their being seen face-to-face determined by clinical need, not preference.
If the voices of GPs across the country continue to go unheard, many will continue to leave the profession as they’re already doing so – and what a grave injustice that would be.
When the trust, care and compassion that we work so hard to nurture in our patients isn’t evident in those who are supposedly there to support our cause, it will sadly leave many doctors with no other option.
Dr Sadiya Ayaz is a GP in Wandsworth, South West London