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Abuse from patients helped drive me out of partnership

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Many within the GP profession feel we are losing a battle with public opinion. Unfortunately, I’m one of them. I do feel that NHS England and some sections of the media have facilitated patients’ targeting of GPs with their frustrations. And I count this among my reasons for quitting my decade-long partnership this summer.

Having got wind that they wouldn’t be able to have what they wanted, the public has reacted with angry words, tantrums, complaints, anonymous hate mail and, at some practices, even threats and physical violence.

Yet in the background, patients have always had access to what they need – if not always what they want. 

Amid this all, GPs have been given mixed messages and been pilloried for not achieving impossible or contradictory aims. Earlier in the pandemic, we faced the wrath some of our patients for going to total triage, even as then-health secretary Matt Hancock asked us to take that route. Next, we had to face the farce of the shielding list in its various versions, dealing with people’s queries on top of our day-to-day work. 

Then came finding out via the newspapers that we were going to be administering Covid vaccines – before NHSE had approved the necessary funding or staffing to enable us to do so, again on top of our normal workload. Alongside this were attempts to mandate face-to-face appointments by patient request, in complete contradiction to our attempts to protect our vulnerable population and shepherd limited clinician resources in primary care. 

This is a lot for any GP to manage. In the midst of it all, I also had difficulties at home. For me, the lifestyle changes imposed by the pandemic included additional caring responsibilities.

With increasingly late finishes, a long commute and a young family, I found I was no longer able to find the time for self-care, and began to struggle. I reduced my clinical sessions and used the time to take stock, consulting with NHS Practitioner Health and seeking advice from former GP turned career coach Dr Sarah Goulding, who was invaluable in helping me to assess my priorities.

It had never been in my thoughts to leave the partnership. I had come from an early GP portfolio career wanting to put down roots in a regular surgery. The prospect of joining a partnership had beckoned – the chance to work together for our local population, to make autonomous changes to the business and to offer the services that we deemed best for our patients. I was appointed a partner in July 2011, chosen from more than 60 applicants.

Yet in the subsequent decade, I’ve seen GP colleagues emigrate, take time off sick, or leave due to burnout. I’ve also had the pleasure of seeing many speciality trainees, foundation doctors and medical students successfully start out in their careers and always enjoyed mentoring and seeing others develop. But I now realise how much I’ve hesitated to give a straight answer during the past 18 months when asked by trainees if I would recommend partnership.

On top of the concerns around the pandemic, I have also been pondering whether the move towards PCNs mean we are as independent as we were, or whether the actual decisions we are allowed to make at practice level are increasingly limited. And are the days of smaller or even medium-sized practices drawing to a close?

All of this and the change in public opinion really triggered me to re-examine what was important in my life, what I needed from my job and how I could seek the best work-life balance. From the current configuration, something had to give.

I retain a huge respect for my partners and would like to offer them thanks personally and professionally for colleagueship, camaraderie and many happy times shared together. But I’m looking forward to a new start.

The GP has asked to remain anonymous


Sally Watkins 5 October, 2021 5:52 pm

I wish you all the best for the future, whatever you decide to do.

Patrufini Duffy 5 October, 2021 8:00 pm

Well done on all fronts.

P B 5 October, 2021 9:05 pm

I wish you well, a nicely balanced article. Im sure you are right, you cant just keep giving in the way you have to as a partner particularly nowadays if you have a long commute and all is not running well at home! There is no lee -way for that in the system! I hope you enjoy a bit of peace ready for life’s next adventure.

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