Reports that a GP has literally downed tools and quit his role have rocked the region of Greater Manchester.
Citing a post-Covid deluge of pressure, the father-of-two simply ended his 15-year-tenure with the words: ‘Nothing ever changes, I realised the only thing I can change is myself.’
His combustible frustrations are shared by doctors, nurses, and non-clinical staff across primary care, and his statements about treating people for mental health issues whilst battling your own really resonated.
For the would-be GP, a career where red tape, filling in for dentists, being an advocate in industrial disputes, preparing for endless inspections, signing fit notes (even for children so as to preserve good attendance records), finding accommodation for the homeless, softening the pain for patients awaiting elective surgery, managing mental health because services have been decimated, and carrying out oxygen tests within the home is no longer an attractive option. Especially when you can do it lucratively overseas and with better conditions.
Then there’s the day-to-day which never went away, whether it’s by phone or in person, patching up patients who take little or no responsibility for their own health.
The buck has been well and truly past from secondary care, and with pharmacists similarly beleaguered, no wonder I feel like screaming every time I hear the phrase: ‘Ask your GP about…’
As someone who’s stood on picket lines for junior doctors and lobbied politically for everyone from paramedics to porters, you would think I’d be in favour ‘direct action’ like walking away.
But for me personally, there’s a bigger picture here, and precedent to prove that together we can succeed where the individual alone cannot.
One of Covid’s few positives is that the public has finally seen the value of their health service. This, then, is the opportune time to tap into that sympathy and raise the plight of their local practice. That window may be short, and there will come a time when instead of beating their pots and pans on the doorstep in support of us, they will instead throw them our way.
A few minutes’ PR engaging with patients, encouraging them to see the surgery as their own and perhaps playing their part in a Patient Participation Group would help. As would taking our provision out to others, staging food banks, distributing sanitary products to the poor… When a community believes it’s their GP surgery, they support it even in the face of draconian cuts and negative publicity. The days of the austere GP have gone, and it’s important that we demystify the family doctor and replace that image with the true human, in-touch, and professional individuals that we are.
And instead of being defused by headlines about the next pay rise or the symptoms that we should have seen but missed, we must keep on talking about our worrying situation with the concerns of the public our top priority.
When the voters are on your side, the politicians must listen.
There need to be active voices for the profession that reach out to other branches of health and social care and indeed decision-makers at local authority level. Over the past months here in Oldham, we’ve created health zones, where nutritional food and exercise provision is present, and we and held the first Covid vaccination clinic for the homeless. Why? Because we got our opinions heard at the highest level.
Essentially, the battle ahead requires courage. I believe that our colleague in Bury has shown enormous self-sacrifice in a bid to heighten awareness and preserve his own sanity. But for me, the resurrection of the surgery, so badly damaged by everyone from the legacy of Shipman to the machinations of this current Government, lies in the hands of we GPs standing and fighting, using our weight within our communities, and utilising our collectives tapping into a zeitgeist where health matters.
Make no mistake, the surgery is of course in trouble. The entire system of primary care could be about to collapse. The Government should set reasonable expectation levels – but seemingly won’t. All of that should be our call to arms, a clarion shout to staff the barricades and fight, rather than surrender. I honestly believe that our patients value their local practice and their family doctor. And it’s up to us as GPs to make sure that they still have one.
Dr Zahid Chauhan OBE is a GP in Greater Manchester, founder of the Homeless-Friendly charity and a campaigner for health equalities.