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Why I’ve returned to the NHS ‘Hotel California’

I left general practice two and a half years ago.

Though, perhaps sensing that I might not be completely done with it, I kept my basic GMC registration. And here we are, facing a crisis like none before in our lifetime, and I’ve just signed up to return to clinical practice.

There have been a lot of war metaphors used in the press in the last couple of weeks, and I’m not finding them overly reassuring, so I’ll avoid them here, and think of it rather as simply ‘doing my bit’ to help out my colleagues, the NHS and the general public.

I was an NHS doctor for 22 years. If I can help, I will. But I also completely understand that people leave the NHS for many reasons, and that many healthcare professionals currently receiving their emails inviting them back will feel differently to me.

So this blog is just my personal view. I absolutely support those who choose not to return, for health and wellbeing; personal; carer or other reasons. We must all do only what we feel able to do.

I started thinking that I might have to return to practice temporarily a couple of weeks ago, well before the public announcements were made. The writing was on the wall, other countries were struggling, and the NHS would soon follow.

All of us in primary care will need to help each other; support the returning newbies; be patient with each other; and take it one day at a time

I briefly considered not coming back, as I have my new consultancy business, and write mental health and parenting books. I have several consultancy clients with whom projects will slowly continue, despite Covid-19, so I’ll carry on working with them, too.

The other big decision last week, alongside returning to the NHS, was whether or not to bring my wedding forward (it was booked for 12 weeks’ time, at the same time as the predicted peak of the virus. So the day after I signed up with the GMC to return, I married Simon, a fellow GP, and we had the smallest wedding in the world, with our witnesses two metres away at all times!

My emotions have therefore had more ups and downs than an ECG showing VF, and the happiness of the wedding has been tempered with the apprehension of speaking to patients again; taking on clinical responsibility; decision-making and managing risk in a pandemic.

Dealing with patients was always my favourite aspect of the GP job. I left the NHS for many reasons, but the bureaucracy and stress didn’t help (CQC, appraisal – I’m looking at you!), so I’m looking forward to talking to people about their health again.

I particularly like mental health care provision, so my ideal role will be working with those who are struggling with their mental health at this time, and needing additional support, but who knows what I’ll be offered or which role will be mine.

Like many GPs, I’m adaptable; familiar with system change; open-minded about different ways of working; and keen to do the best I can for my patients. The weeks ahead will test me, and my colleagues, more than ever before.

All of us in primary care will need to help each other; support the returning newbies; be patient with each other; and take it one day at a time. We live in extraordinary times. We can only do our best, and remember that we’re all #InThisTogether.

Dr Dominique Thompson is the co-author of How to Grow a Grown Up, author of The Student Wellbeing Series, and a GP in Bristol