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This time could be different

Pulse in the past week or so has made dispiriting reading. Roughly half of 2,700 GPs polled are considering quitting the profession, and a similar proportion feel that their workload has now risen to a dangerous level.

These two phenomena are clearly linked. And this is why the current impending crisis may prove to be very different from the crises of the past. GPs today are dealing with more complex patients than ever before, as pressures on secondary care push more and more into our domain. We are also seeing an unrelenting climb in the sheer volume of work. We are not sat in our offices drinking coffee, lighting cigars with a burning fifty, and waiting for the hospital to send us a patient or two.

Nerd that I am, I can recall exactly what convinced me to become a doctor. Around the time of my A-levels, I was bought a book with an oddly aggressive title, something like: So. You want to be a doctor.

The line that got me seems embarrassingly saccharine now, but here goes. It was: “At the end of your career, you won’t be counting the number of rich people you made richer, you’ll be counting the number of people you helped”. Ludicrously, it really was that simple. A job that’s interesting and useful? In which you’ll never get a City-style bonus, but you can be proud of what you did when it’s time for your gold watch? Yes please.

I’m pretty sure the motivations were similar for the majority of us - the ones who are fairly apolitical, enjoy patient contact most of the time, and don’t like doing administrative tasks unless we can see how it will help the person in front of us. I suspect we’ve given ground on so many things in the past because, for most of us, money wasn’t ever the main driver.

We’ve demonstrated that we’ll tolerate our pensions being mucked about with, and that we’ll sullenly get back to work after agreed contracts have been ripped up.

But the underlying message of those two statistics is that we do, perhaps, have a limit. And that limit will come when we are forced to practise unsafely. For all its faults, I still love the job, and believe in its worth. I don’t want to see it destroyed.

But it will only take a fraction of that 50% of GPs to carry out their threat, and the profession will be over. We can only hope those in power realise, before it is too late, that GPs just might mean it this time.

Dr Nick Ramscar is a GP in Bracknell, Berkshire