Fourteen years ago, I recall driving to my interview at Charlotte Keel. I had never visited Bristol before, and yet here I was, attempting to move home and family for a place that was as unfamiliar to me as Singapore. I accidentally veered into the wrong street and came face to face with misery. Boarded up shop fronts, parents swearing at their kids, street workers, all engulfed in the haze and smell of cannabis.
I accepted the partnership but was left wondering what the hell I was doing. Yes, I may have been raised in poverty, but I had spent 20 years in the bright lights of the city, eating and drinking in the swankiest parts of London. How safe would I be walking these streets whilst on home visits?
A wise GP who had been working here a few years reassured me.
‘They know who the doctors are Shaba, and they will protect you. They will keep an eye on your car, and they will ensure you are safe.’
I didn’t ask who ‘they’ were, but I was glad to be a recipient of the informal layers of community protection which existed for over 13 years. Over time, the ‘protection’ became a mutual friendship of support and respect. I was happy to take my then 6-year-old daughter to St Paul’s Carnival, knowing I would feel safe. I felt comfortable parking in residents only parking and putting a sign in my car window to say I was the visiting doctor. And I appreciated the young kids chasing me as I walked to my car, delighted to see ‘their doctor’ on the estate.
But the safety and security I felt being a GP, enveloped in the arms of the community, changed one Monday morning. A grey and dreary morning when my colleagues went into work to be faced with hideous graffiti rocking the foundations of the trust which had been built up over so many years. And it felt even worse to hear of their ordeal while I was on holiday for half term. I could not physically stand alongside them, but I could virtually stand in solidarity for all the hard-working GPs up and down the country, desperately trying to re-ignite depleted levels of morale.
The encouragement and support offered to our practice has been truly uplifting. From patients, to trainees, to secondary care specialists, to leaders – they have linked arms and shared our pain. Other random acts of kindness such as chocolates delivered to the practice have been equally moving.
But what we want and need most of all is to change the narrative about GPs. Our doors may be shut but we are not closed. Our online face-to-face bookings have stopped, but you will still get a face-to-face appointment if you need one. Our days are not spent saving lives in ITU, but we are desperately trying to filter out the symptoms stored up for the last six months, to make sure none of them will kill you. And most of all, if you are diagnosed with a life changing illness, we will be with you and your family every step of the way, holding your hand – even if it is metaphorical hand holding within a Covid world.
Dr Shaba Nabi is a GP trainer in Bristol. Read more of Dr Nabi’s blogs online at pulsetoday.co.uk/nabi