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It’s time we embraced the PPG – and not just because we’re being paid to

You’re sitting in a partners’ meeting and scan the next item on the agenda: ‘PPG meeting feedback’. Do you have a sudden rush of adrenaline and sit up in your chair? Do you stay slumped, bracing yourself for fifteen torturous minutes? Or do you snort mockingly and pillory their latest idea to convert the spare cupboard into a soft play area?

If you’re a slumper or snorter, I’d suggest sitting up. Since 1 April this year, it has been a contractual obligation for practices to have a PPG, as well as being a CQC requirement. The funding of 35p per registered patient previously paid to practices for taking on the PPG DES has ceased and been reinvested in the global sum. 

Now I’m not suggesting that the PPG chair should suddenly be given office space and a free M&S sarnie at the Monday meeting. As a GP who attended his first PPG meeting in May, I can’t claim to be a committed groupie. It does, though, reflect the Government’s preoccupation with patient power: the trite concept that, as a patient, this is ‘your surgery, your NHS’.

So we’re being paid to run our PPGs. But do they serve any practical purpose?

My single experience last month was fairly absorbing. What struck me was that, without payment or perk, eight of our patients had ventured to the surgery, late in the evening, to improve our service.  Sceptics would say they’re bored jobsworths seeking an opportunistic chat with a GP about their Baker’s Cyst. But in reality, our lot were well-meaning, motivated and, above all, offering us much-needed help.

The abridged minutes as follows:

– John had represented the practice at a local patients’ meeting,which was largely indigestible.

– Jane wanted to raise awareness about inappropriate antibiotic use.

– Jeff felt the appointments system was better but suggested a couple of tweaks.

– Joyce was delighted that Julie had agreed to be carers’ champion. 

– Finally, Jim thanked the group for their petition which helped secure funding for our premises refurbishment. 

We briefly discussed PPG Awareness Week, which ran from 1-6 June this year. Organised by the National Association for Patient Participation, it concluded with their 37th annual conference in Leamington Spa. The NAPP are a serious set-up and crucially, they are huge advocates for GPs.  Even a quick glance at their website illustrates what they’re encouraging the public to do: ‘Put patients first, back general practice’. 

Perhaps it’s time the cynics sat up. At a time when we’re feeling smashed like protons in the Hadron Collider, rather than staggering on punch-drunk, let’s accept offers of help.  It’s time we all embraced the PPG – and not just because we’re being paid to. 

Dr Tom Gillham is a GP in Hertfordshire and specialty doctor in A&E. You can follow him @tjgillham.