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When the safety I’d felt as a GP changed

When the safety I’d felt as a GP changed

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



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

Andrew Jackson 28 October, 2020 11:55 am

Although we do need to be careful about over reacting to a ‘single’ episode of vandalism we also wouldn’t expect racist, sexist etc vandalism to be ignored as it is often a subtle sign of shifts in attitudes towards certain groups.
As GP continuity and established relationships fall by the wayside due to political decisions about healthcare services we may see more of this and it will take its toll on morale, recruitment etc in the end.

Reply moderated
Michael Mullineux 28 October, 2020 2:19 pm

OTT and mawkish

David Mummery 28 October, 2020 4:24 pm

Well done Shaba – it’s an absolutely horrible thing to happen

Qasim Bhatti 28 October, 2020 6:16 pm

Wtf 218pm..I presume this is a joke.

I would be compelled to make public the fact we won’t stand for this and expect support from above…those who were quick to tell the public we need to open up, haven’t said anything to a major newspaper or made the apology in the same way, and so hold some of the blame.

I don’t tolerate this shit and neither should you. if it happened to our practice, then I would be considering my position if it wasn’t dealt with appropriately. No point being pc about this.

We can’t work any harder. They are fed their expectations from government and the newspapers that work for them, whilst we have no resource.
The uk is lucky that covid means less are emigrating…but this will soon restart .

This comment has been moderated

Sundeap Odedra 28 October, 2020 6:26 pm

Am sorry this happened to your practice Shaba. I agree lose of continuity has not helped, neither has the NHS England memos and Daily Mail etc. This does not tend to happen to dentists and secondary care despite them offering 12 month waits or being closed – I wonder why NHS England?

John Graham Munro 28 October, 2020 8:54 pm

This comment has been deleted

Simon Ruffle 28 October, 2020 9:42 pm

Finding these comments difficult.
It’s like a Monty Python sketch.
‘You think you had it hard we had to lick the floor clean etc etc…’
If the author has had her safety shattered let’s understand that. Being publicly abused should make you feel angry ans upset if you care.
Being tough and resilient is bullshit.
We should be able to work and care without abuse but if the press, NHSE and other bodies do not defend us then that is even more reason to be a snowflake and have a bloody good whine about it.

Slobbering Spaniel 29 October, 2020 8:43 am

Thank goodness for resilience training.

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Hello My name is 29 October, 2020 9:28 am

We shouldn’t have to tolerate abuse. End of. If we are unsupported and undermined at every turn, we will leave the profession. Good on you Shaba for showing such dignity. It’s likely to be one disgruntled pt, but that doesn’t make the symbol any more infuriating given the conditions GPs are forced to work under. When will we get a collective back bone and say enough is enough?

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Kevlar Cardie 29 October, 2020 11:10 am

I hope that the RCGP has URGENTLY FedEx’d a pallet load of crayons and mindfulness colouring books to the Practice.

That’ll sort it.

Marcel Auf Den Kamp 29 October, 2020 11:29 am

Perhaps Banksy can soften the pain……he lives nearby….and comes with mask and gloves as standard….I will ask Royal College of Graffiti Painters….bear with me

Naznin Younas 29 October, 2020 4:37 pm


Not Arvind Madan 29 October, 2020 9:26 pm

Oh dear. Pulse has resorted to deleting posts ‘criticising’ its GP glitterati. Very poor.

Sujoy Biswas 29 October, 2020 10:48 pm

It was wrong, it happened to us a few years ago and it wasn’t pleasant, this article was bit of an over reaction to one mindless bit of idiocy. Clean it off and carry on.

Patrufini Duffy 30 October, 2020 11:00 pm

Heard it was Banksy…sell the wall and retire.

Graham Moyse 31 October, 2020 12:24 pm

This is very upsetting for the Practice and I feel for them. However, at the risk of upsetting many readers, I think that we GPs have handled the whole access issue very badly. I, like many GPs, am also a patient and find being turned away from the door of my practice very frustrating. Why can’t I talk to a receptionist through a perspex screen? No, I have to spend hours battling with engaged phone lines about a simple enquiry. We should have opened our doors to direct FTF consultations in May (with PPE and receptionist filtering for Covid symptoms). We have now missed the boat and have to lock down again. There is no excuse for this vandalism but we must not blind ourselves to the patient viewpoint.

Reply moderated