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We need to talk

Dr Lisa Finnikin on why she set up the #YourGP campaign to improve communication with the public

We need to talk. Does the doctor-patient relationship need to go into therapy?

If you believe what you read in the papers, in recent months doctors and patients have ended up on seemingly opposing sides. Our relationship has hit choppy waters to say the least, with some of the mainstream press as drunk and disorderly arbiters. Their aim, of course, is not to reunite us, but to sell copies and make money and, hell, a dramatic breakup in full view is always going to pull in the punters. 

On the ground most GPs continue to report a good working relationship with the populations they serve. But a significant proportion of our patients are dissatisfied. So we need to talk. We need to speak directly to the public. We cannot rely on them to decipher all the second- or third-hand information they receive about who we are and what we do.

We need to reject the constant dualism peddled by the media. We need to reject the ‘them-and-us’ narrative and the ‘choose-a-side’ mentality. After all, we are all patients and some of us happen to be doctors. Fundamentally, you cannot divide us. We all want ourselves and those we love to be cared for. We are one team.

We do have a problem in this country with how we perceive care and caring. The act of caring for others is grossly undervalued. For evidence of this, we only have to look at the fact that professional carers are considered ‘unskilled’ and earn appallingly low wages. The value of what clinicians do, caring for people, is similarly underappreciated. This has to change.

I don’t think many people know or understand what a day’s work in today’s world is like for a GP. They think of long lunch breaks, popping home for dinner and a quick nine holes on the golf course before afternoon surgery. They don’t realise GPs are regularly working 12- to 14-hour shifts and that they are going in to the surgery early and staying late every single day. They don’t realise that consulting with patients is only part of the job or that if this was all we did our days would still be full. 

They don’t see the endless stream of results, letters, tasks, queries and prescriptions that all need to be carefully considered and appropriately acted on. They don’t see that logging on from home to catch up on our days off is the new normal. They don’t see the lost lunch breaks, the sandwiches in front of the computer and the daily battle to pick up children on time. I think it’s about time that changed.

If the public and the politicians don’t know what we do, we need to tell them. We need to put the general practice PR machine into action. Some may feel this is the remit of our professional organisations, however so many I speak to feel the responses from these bodies have been slow and disappointing, and that maybe we need to be advocates for ourselves. We need to speak directly to the public.

We cannot rely on the media to help us in our plight, so let’s stand up and show who we are and what we do. People cannot value what they do not understand. So let’s help the public understand. Let’s flood people with information until they can’t not know what we do. We cannot leave this to someone else. 

Start to think about how you could engage your local population. How can you share your brilliance and your work with them? How can you start to demonstrate your value and let people feel involved and that they have a stake in general practice? Imagine the power of patients and general practice working together to save, to cherish and to support what we have.

My small contribution is to start the #YourGP campaign on social media – a simple idea to showcase the wonderful doctors working in general practice. I want to show people your humanity – that the hardworking GPs aren’t the ones at fault. You’re doing everything you can to support them. 

The feedback has been very positive and I invite you to join. 

You can find us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram at @YourGP2021. Come and take a look – I’d love for you to submit a profile to help rebuild the doctor-patient relationship.

Dr Lisa Finnikin recently left work as a salaried GP in Sutton Coldfield, Birmingham


Stephen Fowler 10 November, 2021 4:14 pm

The best (and in my view the only) way to get the public and politicians to understand the value of what we do is to take it away, if only for a short time.

Patrufini Duffy 12 November, 2021 10:15 pm

There is a difference between the public and a patient. It is not your place to deal with one of them. Period.