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Skydiving: the perfect metaphor for general practice

No doubt you’ve seen the poster/video campaign aimed at encouraging medical students and junior doctors to enter general practice. The key image involves someone doing a tandem skydive after a GP has signed the obligatory consent form. According to the explanatory blurb, ‘You’re the one who helps them fulfil their dream of a charity skydive’.

Now, I’m all for new recruits, and I don’t want to appear churlish. But I do have some issues with this. First, there’s confusion around the dramatic skydiving image. At first, I, like many GPs, interpreted it as a metaphor for general practice. Which would be fine – so long as the exhilarated smile on the skydiver is replaced by a look of horror as she realises the parachute’s not going to open and she’s heading directly for a large mound of steaming, carefully-placed manure.

But no. In fact, the image is probably meant to represent a skydiving cancer survivor. And the GP is supposed to feel special because he’s ticked the box enabling her to do this. Which may give some degree of job satisfaction but, if we’re honest, on the ‘fighting cancer’ front, possibly not as much as resecting a tumour or curing by chemo.

Worse still, while form signing is unlikely to inspire undecided students and juniors to batter down the doors of the local VTS, it isn’t that easy, either. There’s all that agonising over whether charging the patient might result in you being sent to hell. And there’s also the medicolegal worry, circumvented by as many double negatives as possible: ‘I know of no reason why this person shouldn’t not be unable to fail to skydive’. Although that’s scant protection when headlines appear screaming, ‘GP sends successfully treated cancer patient hurtling to her death’.

To be fair, though, this campaign is just one of a series. And it could be quite effective if the others depict the cancer journey from initial consultation, through referral, via treatment, to celebratory skydive. On the other hand, it might just glorify other examples of GP’s signing skills – anticipatory meds, condolence cards, crem forms, and so on.

And it could have been an even more powerful – and accurate – image. Replace the pro-tandem skydiver with Jeremy Hunt, grinning, and the patient with me, grimacing, and it would have been spot on as a depiction of general practice being shafted. Rest assured, if that’s the plan for the next one, I’ll do us all a favour and sabotage the chutes. Don’t worry about me, though. My GP signed a form saying I’m fit to skydive.

Dr Tony Copperfield is a GP in Essex. You can follow him on Twitter @DocCopperfield