As a GP for 30 years and counting, my time with patients constantly reinforces my belief that a career in general practice can be one of the best in the world.
But I also experience the flipside of being a GP and the serious problems faced by our profession, not least the chronic workforce shortage and diminishing resources till now.
The praise should go to the unsung heroes of general practice – our fantastic family doctors
My first action when I became RCGP chair in November 2013 was to launch Put patients first: Back general practice, the college’s first-ever UK-wide campaign to draw attention to the workload and workforce burdens that have left general practice straining at the seams.
Three years on, while the situation in general practice remains far from ideal, I believe we have made progress and taken significant strides in the right direction.
The announcement of NHS England’s GP Forward View with its promise to increase investment in general practice by £2.4bn each year by 2020 is, I believe, the biggest win for the college and general practice in England.
It is a clear recognition of the importance of our profession and the value we provide to the NHS and, most importantly, our patients.
Now, the college must hold NHS England to account and ensure that the pledges made in the GP Forward View are swiftly and effectively delivered, as well as securing appropriate settlements for general practice in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland sooner rather than later.
Challenging damaging stereotypes
Our most recent campaign, Think GP, shows how challenging and stimulating a career in general practice really is. This is one of the reasons why we are calling on medical schools to put a stop to the denigration of general practice that takes place within them. It is not just banter, it has a tangible and damaging impact on medical students’ choice of specialty.
Research shows that general practice and psychiatry are the specialties most ‘badmouthed’ within medical schools. We need to tackle the culture that puts physical health over mental health, hospital care over community care, and specialism over generalism.
The college will be challenging these misplaced and archaic stereotypes with the imminent launch of own student-led strategy, alongside that of the RCPsych.
We must hold onto the GPs we have
But we know we can’t create GPs overnight and that is why it is so important to retain the ones we have and persuade those who have taken a career break to return to our profession.
Making it easier for GPs to return to patient care has long been a personal crusade so I was pleased to support the introduction of the new Induction and Refresher Scheme last year.
At our conference, NHS England announced steps to make return to practice much more seamless, including increased financial support to help with indemnity costs, dedicated support for GPs throughout the entire process, and more frequent assessments.
I have also called on health secretary Jeremy Hunt for a five-point plan of specific initiatives for England to retain existing GPs in the workforce, including bursaries to support the CPD of older GPs, and a mentoring and job-sharing scheme that matches older GPs with GPs returning to work after having children.
Looking back on my three years as RCGP chair, I hope I have made a difference that will ultimately have a positive impact on the working lives of our 52,000 members.
The role has been the biggest privilege of my career and I’m so grateful for the kind words, support and encouragement I’ve received throughout my term.
But the praise should go to the unsung heroes of general practice – our fantastic family doctors who work flat-out to provide the best possible care to patients.
Truly amazing things are happening in general practice every day through the work of our brilliant GPs, and long may it continue. As I said in my final speech to RCGP conference, may the force be with you! Goodbye, good luck and thank you.
Dr Maureen Baker steps down as RCGP chair in November