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From clap to slap

From clap to slap

As we approach the anniversary of our first national lockdown, it’s hard not to reflect on the year we have endured. As one person put it: ‘30 days hath September… but February has 10,204’.

Earlier lockdowns last year were associated with sunshine, daffodil walks, rainbow stickers in windows and adulation for the NHS. There was an atmosphere of hope and everyone was united in the same purpose. The public came out every Thursday evening to show their support for the NHS, with pots and pans and, on occasion, entire street orchestras.

Despite being among the only people with secure jobs, NHS staff were offered free coffees, pizza and clothing discounts, while all around us businesses were struggling to stay afloat. Doctors were the new rock stars, and although GPs knew we were just the backing singers, we were happy to be swept along on the tide of admiration.

The first six weeks of 2021 have seen more than a third of the total number of Covid deaths to date, yet the public doesn’t seem as understanding of the need to lock down this time round. The paused complaints from last year are coming in thick and fast to primary care and this reflects the general discontent and despair prevalent in society. This melancholy has also increased the perception of pain, and a large proportion of my calls relate to emotional distress and restlessness, masquerading as physical malaise.

And as with many people elevated to a divine pedestal, we have been toppled in the blink of an eye. Maybe hospital doctors are still seen as the courageous frontline generals in the war against the virus, but this no longer extends to GPs. Indeed, to some, we are drug barons of a toxic vaccine, messengers of death, barriers to face-to-face consultation.

The mistrust of the Government among the public – especially the minority ethnic public – has in some cases diffused into mistrust for doctors and scientists. So, it’s hardly surprising that our claps have fizzled out and been replaced with slaps. The public’s earlier devotion was short lived. Dialogues previously littered with gratitude and apologies for bothering us are now peppered with expletives, and demands are more unrealistic than in pre-pandemic times. The drive to ‘protect the NHS’  has been replaced by people’s desire to protect their own kingdom (and mental health).

Even now, as we vaccinate our most vulnerable patients at lightning speed, we need to be circumspect about any celebrity status conferred by our role in the vaccine programme, as it could have the same dire consequences faced by George Michael or Caroline Flack. Groupthink is polarised and does not see the grey, or relate to individual failures.

I was always wary about the hero worship during this pandemic, when I know the real heroes are the ones who have been quietly toiling, propping up their small businesses through the many years of financial and workforce crisis. But that sort of heroism is never acknowledged.

Dr Shaba Nabi is a GP trainer in Bristol. Read more of Dr Nabi’s blogs online at

This piece originally appeared in the March print issue of Pulse



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

James Cuthbertson 19 March, 2021 6:13 pm

Brilliant article

Charilaos Minas 21 March, 2021 12:44 pm

Eloquently summarised Shaba; from clap to slap indeed…

Patrufini Duffy 23 March, 2021 7:46 pm

As some code “smoking cessation advice” and “depression interim review”…to just avoid their bullying generic, derogatory, irrelevant slap, let’s all look up and the sky, and ask ourselves what on earth are you doing on this spinning rock, in this Milky Way Galaxy suffering mindlessly in autopilot and receiving faecal loaded disrespect from other over privileged condescending human beings. You are worth the kindness and compassion you give, surely. No is the most powerful word in your armour. You just don’t know it, and they brainwashed you never to use it. Just say it, who cares what happens after. At least you were honest with yourself.

John Graham Munro 26 March, 2021 3:40 pm


Concerned GP 26 March, 2021 4:03 pm

Always knew that clapping was a load of claptrap…

Vinci Ho 13 July, 2021 12:45 pm

Reality simply bites
After 26 years in general practice , I have grown extra 5 inches thick in the skin of my face , if that is so-called ‘resilience’ .
I stopped bothering whether I had letter of compliments(for sake of stupid appraisal) every year and can’t be asked whether patients complained officially or unofficially as long as I documented properly . The truth is GPs are merely the only realists of the system( remember the motto about optimist, pessimist and realist ?😄)and we read the dangers before others even felt anything. Fine , call us the moaners . Do I f***ing care ?
There is a couple of lines quotes from a well known Chinese literature named 岳陽樓記(sorry cannot translate on this one ):
‘’Do not get too excited or euphoric about certain matters but also do not get too dejected and melancholic about some personal circumstances.’’ (不要物喜,不要己悲).
As a scholar(Or Jedi in Star Wars language 😎) , we worry well before anyone in the world do . And we only become ‘happy’ after everyone in the world become joyful .