Falling as it does immediately after the Conservative Party’s equivalent, the RCGP Annual Conference is traditionally heralded in by a chorus of doctor-bashing headlines, freshly Ctrl-V’d from DoH comms releases by the hardworking journalists of our tabloid press. This year, however there’s a sinister twist on the age-old theme; now the red-tops’ target is not doctors per se, but foreign doctors. ‘WE’LL GET MORE BRITISH DOCTORS’ trumpets the Express. ‘YOU’RE ONLY WELCOME UNTIL 2025!’ screams the Annals of Speculative Cancer Aetiology.
The shameful decision by ministers to employ this xenophobic rhetoric for political ends has real-world consequences for real people. We know from work done by the BMA and from countless anecdotes on social media that doctors have suffered an increase in racist abuse since the referendum in June. There are thousands of overseas doctors working in the UK, without whose efforts the NHS would have collapsed many times over.
These are my colleagues, the people who taught me how to be a doctor, the people who helped save my life that time my appendix tried to kill me. They deserve better than to find themselves suddenly demonised as substandard makeweights who’ve somehow overstayed their welcome.
The RCGP’s initial guarded response to this story had been to thank overseas doctors for their help, but this was immediately qualified with the suggestion that they might be ‘equally or more needed’ back home, in an inadvertent echo of the ‘brightest and the best’ argument espoused by Paul Nuttalls of the UKIPs.
I was very pleased, therefore, to see the outgoing chair of the RCGP demonstrate the very leadership that was the theme of her conference speech by publicly declaring support for international doctors and decrying xenophobia and racism. It saddens me greatly that such a proclamation should be necessary, but, as overseas graduate and NHS consultant Partha Kar has observed, this is when we need our medical leaders to stand up and be counted. All it takes for evil to prevail is for good people to do nothing.
Maureen’s tweet was the highlight for me of a conference that’s themed ‘Energising Primary Care’ but had hitherto been anything but. We were promised Henry V, but treated instead to a succession of identikit Polonii, slowly reading the bullet points off their slides; all equally earnest and important but collectively about as energising as a nosebag full of Mogadon.
It makes you gaze longingly at SMACC and think that if GPs don’t want to be a derided specialty we seriously need to up our conference game. I’m hoping next year we’ll have a more exciting RCGPAC, taking place against a much less toxic backdrop.
Dr Pete Deveson is a GP in Surrey. You can follow him on Twitter @PeteDeveson