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Convenient scapegoats

Convenient scapegoats

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



Please note, only GPs are permitted to add comments to articles

Patrufini Duffy 18 August, 2021 3:42 pm

It’s ok Jaimie. When GPs do actually close, they’ll be in charge of their dwindling and finite lives, and they’ll truly close their doors whenever they like to play golf with the dentists and have drinks at lunch with banker friends and the solicitors, with more freedom, respect and renumeration as seen by other countries and UK professional sectors who laugh on at this comedy and bruised naïve altruism. The gutter will clear because you’ll need a new pipe system soon. This current toxic equation of patient and employer versus GP surgeries is sad, petty and the dirtiest disease of the UK which sends the whole NHS system haywire. But, someone up there is fuelling it. We know it, we just need to name them and call them out.

Vinci Ho 18 August, 2021 7:23 pm

In 1942, the Beveridge report identified five reasons , the five giant evils , hindering people getting better . Squalor , Idleness, Want , Disease and Ignorance . This was indicative especially in the post-war period .
Today , in the post-pandemic, we have a system(led by government)dogged by Ignorance, Want , Disease but also Bureaucracy and Negligence. 👿

John Graham Munro 19 August, 2021 12:14 am

This should be compulsory reading for all ”starry eyed” trainees

David Church 20 August, 2021 5:05 pm

Are we completely unable to find a surgery that has closed recently (for whatever reason), where anybody might remember , even vaguely, having something like this happen, and get a TV crew down to the empty surgery to film the lack of GP surgery as a result of bad behaviour?