This site is intended for health professionals only

The referee’s scrutiny has been taken too far – in both sport and general practice

Unbelievable scenes. Largely because I seem only to be able to think in sporting metaphors at the moment. I suspect this is because there is a lot of sport about. Or maybe a lot of metaphors.

Whatever the reason, my latest sporting comparison has been inspired by Matthew Syed’s excellent recent column in The Times, in which he pointed out that the overzealous use of video assisted referee – as just exemplified by the Women’s World Cup – is turning the Beautiful Game into an exercise in forensic officialdom. And, reading this, I thought: welcome to my world.

I really don’t need to tell you that we GPs suffer in the same way. Our own VAR consists of micromanagement. And appraisal. And revalidation. And the CQC. And protocols. And NICE. And referral management. And prescribing tools. And complaints. And the ombudsman. And the GMC. And so on, ad infinitum.

General practice wasn’t designed to demonstrate perfection, so it’s illogical to introduce monitoring systems that demand just that

Just as VAR measures each tackle against some unattainable purist, sanitised vision of what we used to call football, so our every professional move is monitored in case we deviate from someone’s perverse and unrealistic idea of excellence. Like VAR, this scrutiny fails to acknowledge the hurly-burly reality of what it is trying to oversee. Unlike VAR, it has been introduced insidiously and without debate.

Obviously, I’m not trying to make a case for deliberately lowering standards. But I am suggesting that general practice was never designed to demonstrate perfection, so it is illogical to introduce monitoring systems that demand just that, especially as workload increases while the workforce does the opposite.

If we could dump a mere 50% of the above list of arse-aching scrutiny then we would improve the flow and functionality of our working lives – and just possibly bring back some joy to the Beautiful Job.

If not, then I’d like to subject every single scrutineer to a studs-up, two-footed, red-card tackle. And, just to be absolutely clear, I’m speaking non-metaphorically.

Dr Tony Copperfield is a GP in Essex. Read more of Copperfield’s blogs at or follow him on Twitter @doccopperfield