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2014: a year to forget?

One very prominent GP said to me recently that he thought it must be an exciting time to be editor of Pulse.

In one way he was right. There is certainly enough news to fill our website every day. From the latest absurdity from NICE, to the incompentent meddling from the CQC, we do not struggle to find things to write about.

This year, GPs have been at the very centre of the debate about the future of the NHS and as a result those in power are always interested in what we write. GPs are an outspoken bunch, and I have been pleased to represent your views on seven-day working, the scheme and – of course – the controversial £55 dementia diagnosis incentives in the national and local media this year.

But in other ways it is a very worrying time. The past 12 months have been brutal on the profession.

We have seen the level of disillusionment and anger in the profession boil over and start having a corrosive effect – you only need to look at the latest training places figures to see what a toll this is having on the future of general practice.

As our Stop Practice Closures campaign highlighted this year, scores of GPs are simply on the verge of giving up. Burnout rates are reaching unsustainable levels. GPs are heading for the exit door.

Some very prominent figures have accused Pulse of being too negative about the state of the profession this year. ‘You are damaging general practice,’ I have been told.

But as a journalist I feel a heavy responsibility not to shy away from telling the truth; not to sugar-coat hard realities. And I hope this has contributed to a change in the national narrative around general practice.

Far from being fat-cat GPs, we have shown that many GP partners are taking massive pay cuts this year.

We showed that the recruitment problems in some areas were so bad that practices were waiting a year to fill a vacancy.

That burnout rates among GPs were so bad that two-fifths are taking time off.

That in some areas, there were 40% gaps in GP training places.

These are horrible headlines. But there are the first signs that those in power may be listening to what we – and others – have been saying.

GP practices were explicitly the target of the Treasury’s £1bn cash injection into the NHS – although we have yet to see how that will be distributed. This year we saw the profession force NHS England to rethink their MPIG withdrawal and reviews of PMS contracts.

Health education chiefs have woken up to the recruitment crisis and have been throwing money at ‘golden hellos’ and a root-and-branch review of the primary care workforce is underway. We even had the health secretary saying that he did not want to see any GP practice close.

But while there are signs of movement (or panic, if you prefer), I do not know whether 2015 will be a better year for the profession. These could all just be sweeteners before the election next year and politicians have a funny way of moving the goalposts for general practice before any of the best strikers can even make it down the pitch.

What I do know, however, is that we will do our best to support you this coming year. I am grateful for any of you who have given us your views in 2014, from filling out a survey to writing a letter. Thank you also if you have contributed to the discussions on our website or spoken to us in person. It really helps guide what we write about and what we say – so please carry on in 2015.

We are already planning some exciting initiatives for next year, more news on that later, but I want to wish you a very happy Christmas. And the very best of luck for 2015, whatever happens.

Nigel Praities is editor of Pulse.