‘The only way is up’, you optimistically remind yourselves.
But bringing you back down with a thud is the realisation that, actually, there are no real highs or lows in general practice. Turns out morale hasn’t hit rock bottom after all – it’s hovered at the same (admittedly low) level since records began.
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Pulse began in 1960 – as did our moans about morale. A young (or very old, depending on how you look at things) issue asked: ‘Are doctors human?’, before explaining Pulse’s practitioners’ panel’s plans to ‘tell doctors about themselves’.
But not before posing the pertinent further question: ‘To what extent does the doctor’s rather special place in the community affect him [always a him] as a human being? The typical GP is as mythical as the “average man”…’
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Morale has seen minimal change, and the same is true of the media’s straight-to-the-point approach to general practice. Sometimes, though, we’re the guilty party – as this 1967 headline of ‘Do we need doctors?’ proves.
Unless we’ve misinterpreted our past selves, and, rather than asking if there’s any point to the profession full stop, they were simply predicting the future surge of digital consultations.
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The same year, Pulse’s Readers’ Forum raised an issue still relevant today – whether medics’ health should be a case for GMC action. However, Dr Joy’s response to discovering that a locum had schizophrenia wouldn’t have segued into the modern day.
The GP, whose surname doesn’t appear synonymous to his outlook on life, states that he’d be interested to hear the editor’s views on the matter. Similarly, we think he’d be interested to hear how understanding of mental health has progressed.
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Another dose of déjà vu is served from 1973 – when the UK joined what’s now known as the EU. Now, of course, we’re looking back at the headline: ‘UK doctors are Europe’s medical peasants’ in the year the country made its exit.
Its accompanying sub-heading: ‘Wiltshire GP Ivor Jones paints a depressing picture of GPs chances when the Review Body meets’ does little to elicit any joy. In a down-about-the-mouth hat-trick, not only is Dr Jones the illustrator of a forlorn image, but the Government’s relationship with GPs has made scant progress, and, well, Pulse’s grammar here would make the current subeditors very sad indeed.
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Three years on, a letter was simply titled ‘Life for the GP is far from happy’. We won’t read too much into the fact that it was published on Valentine’s Day.
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By the turn of the decade, Pulse was already ruminating ‘just how hard it is to be a doctor in Britain in the 1980s’. That was only published in March 1980, when the decade had barely begun…
But, sure enough, it turns out it WAS hard to be a doctor in Britain in the 1980s.
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A 1982 analysis strikingly urged: ‘Throw some light on the dark side of a GP’s life’. Pulse was still harping on about light just last year, when the June front cover begged: ‘Will the last practice to close please turn out the lights?’
While light-based longevity can be appreciated, we’re not sure this similarly gloomy update 37 years on would have filled the GPs of the time with too much cheer.
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The situation hadn’t picked up much by the 1990s – but stress levels had. An October 1990 headline described them, alongside anxiety, as ‘soaring’.
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Something that did emerge that decade, though, was GPs’ forward-thinking approaches to tackling dwindling morale. ‘Disillusioned GPs seek escape from pressures of NHS’, reads this 1991 headline.
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And by the following year, the RCGP was catching on, via the failsafe medium of ‘considering new schemes to combat increasing stress’. Perhaps they’ll actually agree on them some point this decade.
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Mere months later, ‘GP job satisfaction is down, and stress is up’. If nothing else, perhaps comfort could be found from the see-saw equilibrium being maintained.
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Having arrived in 2007, we’re confronted with large letters shouting: ‘STRESS. IT COULD EVEN HAPPEN TO YOU’. Well, quite.