There is a certain perverse pleasure to be gained from feeling that the world is against you and that you are fighting for a valiant and worthy cause. Sports teams refer to the siege mentality that can help, when they feel that everyone hates them and is against them.
For the last few years it has felt that British general practice has been under siege from the media, the government, regulatory bodies and spiralling patient demand. It has sometimes felt like general practice was defending itself at the Alamo, or forming an ever tighter circle of canvas covered wagons in the middle of a mid-west American plain, while the enemy starved us out, vultures circling overhead.
However, over the Easter holidays The Telegraph reported on the GP recruitment crisis. The same paper reported, a month earlier, on the potential crisis due to GPs retiring early, which was published on the same day as the BBC ran the same story nationwide. The enemy fire upon the resisting remnants of general practice seems to have become more sporadic. The tight circle of wagons seems to have unfurled slightly and has started to move across the plains.
We’re no longer a cowering encampment rationing out our pensionable pay to see how long we can last, but we have formed a caravan, a band of wagons.
There was a relatively obscure alternative rock album in the early 1990s called Bandwagonesque – a reference to the musical press that has a penchant for building up and following a band or artist, just because everyone else is.
‘Bandwagonesque’ describes how I feel about the latest mass media publicity about the hardships and challenges of general practice. While it is heartening to hear that our story is being relayed to a mass audience via radio, internet, TV and newspapers, the cynic in me can’t help but feel that one media outlet after another is jumping on the bandwagon, simply not to be left behind and lose viewers, listeners and readers. Although they may be interested in the truth, perhaps they are simply cashing in on a story that will frighten patients and would-be patients, keeping them hooked in to channels and websites for the latest updates.
As a profession we need to make sure that we are holding the reins of general practice. We need to make sure that we are not simply being herded towards an ambush or down a steep rocky cliff face. I still occasionally catch site of the overhead vultures as the wagon wheels bounce over the rutted track.
My feeling is that as we travel on we will suddenly realise that no-one is watching us anymore. Their attention will have been diverted elsewhere and we’ll have to settle down, make camp wherever we find ourselves and wait for the next onslaught.
Dr Samir Dawlatly is a former secretary of the RCGP’s adolescent health group and a GP in Birmingham.