Dr Mike Smith describes his Black Mirror-esque experience while running in the GPC chair and deputy chair elections
If a friend had suggested that contesting for the deputy chair of the BMA’s GP Committee for England would resemble a surreal mash-up of The Hunger Games and a Black Mirror episode, I might have scoffed.
Yet, there I was last Tuesday, marooned in a Microsoft Teams netherworld, as if in one of those pods from Love Is Blind, praying for some form of connection within an eight-minute window.
The prelude was all too reality show-esque. In the virtual room, waiting to speak, I caught up on some blood results. I turned my camera and microphone off, and sat there listening in the background.
After a few minutes, I became privy to the camaraderie of the GPC machine. It felt like overhearing the banter at Central Perk from Friends. Warmth emanated from them. But as the chatter unfolded, I couldn’t shake off the sensation of being an extra-terrestrial. ‘It’s nice to have the gang back together,’ a voice announced, seemingly unaware of my outsider status. They weren’t talking to me.
Suddenly, I was thrust into the ‘interview’ spotlight. After three hours on hold, I was in another Teams room. More than 80 anonymous digital avatars stared back, perhaps waiting, perhaps judging. Or had they taken a tea break during my penultimate address? I wouldn’t blame them after waiting that long. Among the icons, I spotted legacy names – seasoned GPC players of yore.
In this void, I stated my interests, and my lack of political alignments (unlike most candidates), only to be presented with a perplexing query: ‘GPCE, to many grassroots GPs, can appear inward-looking, divided, ineffective and unwilling/unable to enact the will of LMC Conference. How will you address this?’
This felt like someone asking about how I would adjust the radio station in my car, when, in fact, the car was missing its entire engine. An unintended irony, highlighting the disconnect between committee concerns and the real-world concerns of many GPs.
Two more questions whizzed by, their impact fading almost instantly. And then, without feedback or even a fleeting ‘thanks’, I was relegated to the main room – a sensation eerily resembling the chill one might feel being the last to leave a dimly lit club. The entire ‘hustings’ experience felt like being thrust into a digital coliseum, minus the adrenaline rush from a cheering crowd, leaving me questioning if I’d become an unwitting pawn in an arcane game.
Yet, among the cacophony, Dr Katie Bramall-Stainer’s voice resonated. She was poised, articulate, compelling. A voice that could rally the weary and rekindle hope. Left leaning, yes. But so what? As long as there is balance in the GPCE. Why do I say this? Well, navigating the terrain with NHS England requires a delicate balance. While passionate advocacy is essential, we must also be mindful not to paint them as a monolithic adversary intent on general practice’s downfall. Not only is this inaccurate (I sometimes wish they were as coordinated as some claim!), but it’s counterproductive. Holding the power as they do, a combative stance won’t serve general practice’s interests.
After all, progress is more readily made when we’re seated at the negotiating table, rather than when we’re on the proverbial menu. Don’t get angry, get strategic. I hope the GPC don’t serve KBS as a main course. In this grander GPC tale, filled with its digital labyrinths, change is overdue.
Hopefully, Dr Bramall-Stainer is the catalyst we have awaited. Otherwise, with legacy influences looming large, we risk our narrative becoming monotonous. The words ‘crisis’ and ‘breaking point’ start to lose their meaning.
As for my cameo in this saga? Let’s say this episode might struggle to clinch a full five-star rating from this critic.
Dr Mike Smith is a GP partner in Hertfordshire