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Teach patients to seek quality over quantity when it comes to appointments

Another round of AKT results has come out, and we as trainees are edging further towards becoming UKs GPs.

And it is a job applicant’s market at the moment, with some 40% of Wessex practices reporting a vacancy.

However while that may make taking out a mortgage a possibility for trainees, work life balance remains a serious concern for GP partners. A fifth of Wessex GPs are planning to retire early with 60% citing workload as the reason.

However, not all are in the position to be able to retire. One Wessex GP with no plans to retire told me: ‘I am seriously considering all other options to try and get out of this stressful undervalued profession that is killing my social and family life and destroying my morale daily.’ 

Recent political election statements such as Labour leader Ed Milliband’s pledge of a GP appointment within 48 hours completely miss the point on a number of levels. Creating this much activity or ‘noise’ in the system distracts GPs from delivering focussed high-quality care to those who need it. 

But this leads straight back to expectations, education and responsibility, while remaining mindful of the fact that one needs a bit of waste in the system to act as a safety margin. If you offer patients a way to have their earache seen to within two days, they will come to your surgery – if for no other reason than the system is beginning to tell them that they should.

If, however, you empower patients to take responsibility to self-manage, then they will (hopefully) only attend the surgery when they need to, where they will find you alert, fresh, fully-staffed, on the ball and enjoying your job. 

It’s about quality of appointments, not quantity. I think of it a bit like Delia Smith’s approach to calories: blow out on a really rich luxurious chocolate cake once in a while, rather than eating an insipid second rate thing regularly.  

As for me, I’ve worked hard enough and have enough self-regard to continue to aim for and insist on being the GP equivalent of a moist, airy, rich, high-end chocolate cake, delivering a business that is high quality and satisfying. 

Fellow trainees: do not accept being some plastic-wrapped, own brand, two-for-a-£1 item, and beware that politicians would like to market you as such. 

Dr Alex Thomson-Moore is an ST2 in the Severn Deanery.