The news this week that some practices have faced bomb threats and have been sent blood-soaked tissues sadly may not have come as a surprise to many of you.
For the practices themselves, they were incredibly distressing incidents. But it seems to me we are seeing more of these.
Without trying to sound too sympathetic to the patients involved, I have no doubt their own health problems are distressing and frustrating, enough so that they are looking to lash out.
But, I’m sad to say, the narrative surrounding GP practices in the media – and helped along by NHS managers and ministers – has given these patients their convenient scapegoat in the form of GPs. I’m not for a minute suggesting that headlines around general practice being closed are designed to instigate this abuse. But it doesn’t take much to direct these people’s anger in the wrong direction.
Especially as GPs are already the natural conduit for patient anger at the best of times, due to their closeness to patients, let alone when the NHS is broken. So now patients are not only frustrated at services, they are frustrated at the fact GPs can’t help speed up their hospital appointments or tests, for example. The blood test shortages are a case in point – as BMA GP Committee policy lead on NHS England Dr Chandra Kanneganti put it, ‘we get abuse for everything’.
Ministers and NHS England might point to the hundreds of times they have praised GPs. But it only takes one poorly-worded statement for the whole narrative to change.
This is not to say that there aren’t a few practices who maybe haven’t been doing enough during the pandemic. Just like in any profession, there will be some people who aren’t performing as they should. Indeed, for our September issue, we have a debate on this very topic.
But the way to deal with these practices is not to issue blanket statements about the whole profession and fan the flames. Think about it like this: can you imagine ministers saying that the police have been closed during the pandemic, or using the actions of a handful of police officers to make statements about the whole profession? Or the fire service? Yet it seems ok to say this about GPs.
The BMA is continuing to refuse talks with NHS England, and its annual meeting is discussing the implication of negative press releases. They are right to do so, and to call for Government to educate patients about the state of GP workload.
Because until there is a complete change in approach from NHS managers, GP practices will continue to be the outlet for the frustrations of the most vulnerable and volatile patients.
Jaimie Kaffash is editor of Pulse. Follow him on Twitter @jkaffash or email him at email@example.com.