Do GPs need locking up?

This comment is in response to an article about a little girl with cellulitis and sepsis whose mother didn’t receive a call back from the GP quickly enough so stormed into the surgery demanding she was seen immediately.

As a medic, something we should NEVER do is read Daily Mail articles and comments. It is always depressing reading; seeing how we are portrayed by the press and how some of the public view us. But I got sucked in. Again.

Why? Because I am passionate about my job, the NHS and patients having the best care possible. And because I hate injustice and have a fire in me to try and put that right. Other people take the view of just avoiding reading this sort of stuff as it just negatively affects us, but I feel a need to attempt to correct that injustice from people whose comments are mostly full of unfair ‘GP bashing’ based on total misconceptions.

It is quite usual to see comments that generally refer to GPs as lazy, part-timers, greedy, overpaid, negiligent, useless – and some so awful they verge on ridiculous such as the one above. And you know what? – that hurts. It hurts me and it hurts many of us. Because it is simply not true.

We are NOT lazy. Part-time? – most of us are doing as many hours in a few days as people in other jobs do in a week. And it’s tough work which is psychologically and emotionally intense and therefore energy-depleting very quickly.

We are NOT prioritising money over patients. We do NOT choose to increase patient registrations in order to ‘cash in’ on patient numbers; in fact practices are often not allowed to close to new registrations even when already overwhelmed and struggling and requesting to do so.

We do NOT choose to have poor availability of appointments. There is simply too much demand for the available staff numbers and resources – and this can’t be fixed at practice level.

Over-paid? The figures you hear quoted in the media are far from accurate. Of course the wage is reasonable but nowhere near what is quoted and our outgoings on professional fees, indemnity insurance, compulsory training, equipment etc are extortionate – having spent tens of thousands on training in the first place. And we are highly trained practitioners with vast and diverse knowledge and skills…

Keeping up to date and optimising competence? We DO do ongoing training continuously…often in our own time and at our own cost.

Please remember we are on your side! We hate the state the NHS is now in as much as you. And don’t forget – we are also patients too, without special perks – we also know what it feels like from that point of view and share your frustrations.

Many of us focus our energies so much into our job over everything else that our families lose out, we have no lives of our own and our own health suffers significantly. Hence many GPs, even those who once loved it with a passion, are leaving the profession or even leaving the country. The workload is becoming unsustainable and the increasing undeserved animosity from the general public is making it all feel rather pointless. We are giving our all and it just isn’t enough to keep up with the increasing demand and declining funding and resources. And then we get blamed for it when it is not our fault.

Why do we bother devoting our lives to our profession and our patients, often with self-sacrifice, when this is how we are perceived?

So why do the public think this scenario happens when the GP doesn’t respond promptly? We are chatting over a cuppa and cake?! We’ve gone for a couple of rounds of golf?! NO…we are dealing with far too many people, despite working more and more hours (without breaks).

When I am on call, I often see several phone call requests coming in whilst I am speaking to a single patient for just a few minutes. I end up scanning through up to 40 odd messages on the screen trying to prioritise and keep everyone safe.

And ‘receptionists’ (ours are rightly termed and trained as ‘patient advisers’) are an essential tool in aiding us in this prioritising – yet deal with a significant amount of hostility from patients who are understandably frustrated, even though it is not the fault of the reception staff but they end up on the receiving end as they are at ‘front of house.’

People often phone back after half an hour or so of requesting to speak to a doctor because they haven’t yet had a call. Why haven’t I called you yet? – because there are 20 or so people ahead of you as well as urgent things to attend to within the surgery.

Another highly important thing to point out which this case demonstrates perfectly, is that GPs are not an emergency service – we do not have the training, provision or resources to provide emergency services or emergency timing. This little girl needed to go straight to A&E in the first place…not that I am blaming her mother; which service to use in which scenario is often still poorly understood. But I like to keep things simple and practical; if you think something can’t wait a few hours because it seems serious or is getting worse, it is probably not suitable for GP services and needs urgent care services such as A&E. So this is a message to take away from reading this.

So…we are not deliberately ‘inadequate’ and needing a bit of disciplining. We are not actually lazy and useless; but we are under-resourced and over-worked. Do we get things right every single time? No. We are also HUMAN and fallible, despite best efforts. And the ‘retrospectoscope’ is a wonderful thing; it is so easy for the public to judge a doctor when something has gone wrong, but perfection is not possible in any job – including ours.

I can assure you that every GP I know has their priorities right and tries their best for you the patient in the face of increasingly difficult times. Do you still think we need locking up to sort us out?

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