One Pulse reader reflects on how general practice’s eerily empty waiting rooms are leaving GPs at the receiving end of abuse from patients
I was recently watching the music video for ‘Ghost Town’ by The Specials when a thought entered my mind. Have you noticed anything a bit strange about your GP surgery lately? Specifically, about the waiting room and how it’s pretty much always empty?
If you go into virtually any GP surgery in the country, you’ll see the same thing: one or two people sitting in the waiting room; rows upon rows of empty, unused chairs; and a few patients milling around outside, staring at their phones and looking confused. Welcome to the ghost practices, where there are tumbleweed waiting rooms with scarce evidence of human life.
Things look a little different in A&E, though. Bodies are strewn across corridors and waiting room chairs; patients lie down and sleep on the floors; piercing wails emanate from behind partially closed curtains; and staff run around drenched in sweat, clearly struggling to meet demands.
What impression does this give to the general public? It fits the narrative of ‘lazy GPs’ and ‘dedicated, hard-working hospital doctors’ that’s being bandied about. Of course, all of us in the profession know that GPs are working hard, it’s just that we’re now staring at a computer screen trying to decipher a blurred photograph of half an armpit that has been sent to us, instead of consulting in person.
We have tuned into what feels like 100% telescreen medicine, and it’s not doing anyone any good. There are probably many reasons behind the evolution of these ghost surgeries, including the rise of digital medicine and e-consultations; patients thinking they might need to take a bit of time off work to see a doctor; electronic prescribing; telemedicine and phone clinics; and patients being too scared to sit in a waiting room in case it’s made from RAAC concrete.
All I can say is that it doesn’t look good. Especially when compared with emergency departments. Regarding the law, there is a famous quote about justice that is now regarded as a self-evident truth:
‘Justice must not only be done, but must also be seen to be done.’
This dictum was laid down by Lord Hewart, the then lord chief justice of England in the case of Rex v. Sussex Justices, . Maybe the same applies to general practice:
‘General Practice must not only be done, but it must also be seen to be done.’
Do you remember the good old days before the Ghost Town?
Dr Burnt Out