I can’t imagine how unhelpful this coverage must be for already overworked GPs. The constant barrage of messages claiming general practice is closed and GPs are refusing to see patients will always penetrate the public consciousness, and I’m sure every GP will experience the consequences of this coverage in barbed comments (or worse) from patients.
I’m not going to address the columns of Allison Pearson and James Kirkup word for word. While the latter at least had the kernel of an argument, Pearson’s article seemed to be predicated on anecdotes and a complete misunderstanding of the dangers of Covid.
And the main criticisms from both are demonstrably unfair, given in 95% of cases GPs can do nothing to address them.
Practices cannot open up because they are already open. GPs cannot work longer hours to meet demand because they are already working unsafe hours. And they can’t shift more resources from remote consultations to face-to-face appointments because this would provoke criticisms from patients who have come to like digital access, as well as questions from commissioners – and would lead to even longer waiting lists anyhow.
It seems the only thing that would satisfy these commentators is for the GPs who aren’t working 11 hours a day to give up any ambitions of maintaining a work-life balance (something Ms Pearson says explicitly). How enforcing this would help attract the thousands of GPs we so desperately need is anyone’s guess.
No one would deny that there are problems with access to GPs – not least GPs, who have been banging the drum about the crisis for years now. But the attempts to identify GPs’ laziness as the cause is in itself lazy and more importantly deflects from the real, structural problems. And that is that demand is far too high and supply is far too low. But acknowledging this makes for much harder arguments and risks shifting the blame to a government that these columnists have enthusiastically endorsed.
Enough is now enough. But what can be done? First, the profession needs to counter the message that general practice is closed. Instead, this needs to be replaced with a campaign based on positive messages: the GP is the patient’s advocate; they are there for you when you need them; they will always do what is clinically appropriate for you; they will do all they can to differentiate the innocuous sore throat from the sore throat that is cancer.
These positive messages will be then followed up with explanations: sometimes, a GP will make the decision to consult remotely if that is appropriate; sometimes services won’t be as convenient as you’d like because the safety of patients and staff – whether that be safety from infection, or from burnt out GPs – must come ahead of convenience; and sometimes you might have to wait longer for a routine appointment because there are simply not enough resources.
How the BMA and RCGP conveys these messages is something I’ll leave to their PR experts. But we will be pushing these messages out there as much as we possibly can, starting with our survey, which I urge you to take when we make it live later this week.
We need to change the tune, and that process must start now.
Jaimie Kaffash is editor of Pulse. Follow him on Twitter @jkaffash or email him at email@example.com.