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GPs are being blamed for government failures in primary care, say doctors

BMJ 2021; 374 doi: (Published 13 September 2021) Cite this as: BMJ 2021;374:n2234


Martin Marshall: Media attacks on GPs threaten the doctor-patient relationship


Has abuse become the norm for NHS staff?

  1. Elisabeth Mahase
  1. The BMJ

“Toxic” media stories about primary care have left many GPs feeling demoralised and browbeaten. Elisabeth Mahase looks behind the headlines

Over the past few weeks a significant chunk of the UK national press have been running anti-GP articles consisting mainly of two messages: lazy GPs are refusing to see patients face to face, and practices have been closed during the pandemic. Both accusations have been clearly refuted by medical leaders, with data showing they are unfounded, but why is there so much anger at primary care?

Animosity towards healthcare workers is not a new phenomenon in the covid-19 pandemic. For many months healthcare staff have had to face protesters outside their workplaces and been subject to physical and verbal abuse, even receiving calls for them to be hanged. However, the media vitriol against general practice has recently ramped up.

Headlines have included the Telegraph’s “GPs still ignoring orders to allow patients face-to-face appointments” and the Spectator’s “Why are doctors still hiding behind Zoom screens?”12 Some articles, with support from a small number of secondary care doctors, have even gone so far as to blame GPs for excess deaths. A Times headline claimed that “Virtual GP visits are ‘costing lives.”3

However, workload statistics tell another story. They show that practices in England delivered 31.1 million appointments in June 2021, of which 4.2 million were for covid vaccinations.4 This was 7.3 million more appointments (or 3.1 million more, excluding covid vaccinations) more than in June 2019 (23.8).5 More than half (56%) of the appointments in June that weren’t for covid vaccinations were face to face.

Writing in BMJ Opinion, Martin Marshall, chair of the Royal College of General Practitioners, said, “There’ve been numerous times in the past when GPs …

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