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GPs have ‘never been happier’?



It can be hard to be really funny when you are writing humour. Some people manage it effortlessly, and others struggle. It is always a delight to read Douglas Adams, or P.G Wodehouse. They wrote about a unique world that their characters inhabited, be it Zafod Beeblebrox or Bertie Wooster, you get under their skin, and into their world.

I don’t expect humorous writing from the Government, and particularly from the Department of Health; but this week they managed it. It came in their evidence to the Pay Review Body where they stated that GPs have ‘never been happier‘, and they have ‘maintained their income‘.

I had to look twice at the press release to see if I had misread the report. I hadn’t.

This is simply untrue. It is a little like the football manager who never sees a serious foul by one of his players, or Richard Nixon asserting that there will be ‘no cover up at the White House’. It actually beggars belief that anyone could make such an assertion, particularly a government department.

We have, as GPs, a background in science, and are well-used to the use of statistics in enhance an argument; pharmaceutical companies have been trying it on for years, and we are now inured to their ‘evidence’ as they use all the tricks of selective reporting and skewed statistics to bolster a feeble case.

With the pharmaceutical firms, at least the case is feeble, and the drugs may have some benefit, but with the Department of Health there is no excuse for using the same tactics so say that Black is, in fact, White.

I have been a Jobbing GP for close on a third of a century. I have done the same job in that time, and have seen a parade of different governments, different secretaries of state, and different eras and philosophy in UK primary care. There have been some good times, and some bad times, but generally the goods exceeded the bads.

Right now, however, things are as bad as I have even known them. The GPs I meet only ever talk about the stress and the workload. Those who have devoted their professional lives to their practices cannot wait to retire, and it will be rare soon to find any GP working past the age of 60.

There are many stories about people working 12-hour days, lunch taken in the car between home visits, and the increasing mountains of paperwork.

When I started in general practice it was quite apparent that Government did not have a clue about what general practice was like, why GPs worked hard at developing their practices, and the small amount of management that was needed to keep the whole process going.

British general practice then was an efficient, effective and inexpensive way to deliver primary care. The NHS was the most egalitarian health system in the world, and we had a sense that we were contributing to the moral good of society.

I’m not wishing to turn the clock back, but the reasons we have lost old-style general practice are legion, and can be summed up by a few words: ever escalating workload, increasing bureaucracy, target setting and meeting, constant and pointless change, vast sums of money being used for other things than frontline care, increasing regulation, pointless hoops to jump through, the wretched and unloved GMC, rationing, meetings, ill-thought out ‘initiatives’ and creeping deprofessionalisation.

Need I go on?

A nine-year pay freeze, proposed pensions raids, and constant denigration in the media.

Never been happier?

Absolute rubbish. Nonsense on stilts.

The Jobbing Doctor is a GP in a deprived urban area of England