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A military solution to the problems of general practice

According to General Eisenhower, ‘the best morale exists when you never hear the word mentioned; when you hear a lot of talk about it, it’s usually lousy’. He might have added that when the normally conservative GMC go out of their way to specifically mention morale in their annual report, you can be sure it’s closer to rock bottom than Dwayne Johnson’s Y-fronts.

I wonder what the General would make of the esprit de corps of the medical workforce in 2016? The signs are not good: recruitment is falling year on year, and desertion becoming so commonplace that they’ve just introduced stiff punishments for those attempting to leave. With workload skyrocketing and real terms income plummeting, it’s hardly surprising. I don’t keep a gratitude journal, but if I did, it’d be emptier than Julian Assange’s Pokedex.

Thankfully, there’s a military-style solution to our current mojo deficit: Jeremy Hunt ‘wants to boost GP morale by awarding more gongs‘. Scoff if you like, but he just might be on to something; after all, not only has Mr Hunt presided over the single greatest rise in NHS morale in living memory, but also that formidable achievement was directly attributable to insignia placement.

I’m sensing some disbelief here, but cast your minds back. It was the morning of the last reshuffle, and Jezza was seen walking up to 10 Downing Street, wearing neither his customary smirk nor his familiar NHS badge. Now do you remember that feeling? Just seeing his lapel finally free of its trademark blue-and-white Horcrux was like witnessing the tentative debut steps of your firstborn whilst simultaneously hearing your winning lottery numbers read out, in an Orgasmatron.

Sadly, after Theresa May had scrabbled to no avail through a rolodex marked ‘Anyone, Literally Anyone Else Willing To Be Health Secretary’, the badge and the smirk were firmly back in place, and the resultant endorphin nosedive felt like having your childhood sweetheart interrupt your wedding vows to tell you they’re eloping with your best mate, and as you stare uncomprehendingly into their cruel black eyes you suddenly notice on the patina of their unrepentant tears the reflection of a mushroom cloud blossoming behind you. During Brexit.  

Bad times perhaps, but testament to the emotional power that the presence or absence of a bit of metal on a shirtfront can wield. In the words of Field Marshall Slim: ‘Nothing is so good for the morale of the troops as occasionally to see a dead general’, that’s going a bit far, but I’ll settle for a missing NHS badge.

Dr Pete Deveson is a GP in Surrey. You can follow him on Twitter @PeteDeveson