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I’ve learnt to put my needs ahead of patients’

Having had a summer holiday not too long ago, which I understand is fairly uninteresting to most people, I don’t have a beef with ‘the system’ at the moment.

This may be because I’ve gone beyond caring about the mess that is general practice in England, or more likely that I’ve realised that ranting about this has minimal effect, beyond creating a minor stir on social media for a moment or two. I have no illusions about my circle of influence.

I have, however, concluded that I may have actually reached a level of contentment and work-life balance. I now work six sessions and do some ad-hoc work for the CCG, supporting practices that have asked for help.

I’m no longer an LMC member, on the board of a super-partnership, or running a referral management scheme locally.

I’m cramming my six clinical sessions and associated administrative work and partner-load into three days, and using my days off to exercise, write blogs and pick up my share of the childcare requirements at home. I’m aware of how lucky I am to have achieved this balance.

By putting my needs above my patients’, I feel I’m improving my ability to care for them

Last week, I met up with a good friend with the same sporting interests.

We spent the day in Wales and I realised that achieving this kind of work-life balance was only possible if you ignore the first GMC ‘law’ of making the care of your patient your first concern. If my patients’ needs were really my first concern, perhaps I would have popped into work on my day off, or logged in from home to check that everything was OK.

I believe the GMC edict sets up a hierarchy of needs which places the needs of my patients above mine.

Perhaps, then, it’s no surprise that 90% of GPs (and other doctors) are at high risk of burnout, when for so long, the unspoken sentiment has been that meeting the needs of patients automatically has to come first. It forms the basis of the goodwill that the NHS is built on – doing unpaid work beyond contracted hours, for the good of the patients.

Of course, this doesn’t apply to GP partners who only have nominal clinical sessions rather than set hours. 

Ironically, by putting my needs above my patients’, I feel I’m improving my ability to care for them. The relationship between my needs and those of my patients is not hierarchical, but circular and interrelated. Maybe millennials, who are accused of looking after themselves foremost, have got things right. 

Dr Samir Dawlatly is a GP in Birmingham