‘Demonising less-than-full-time doctors will drive people away’ - GPs slam media attacks

After media campaigns criticising GPs over working hours, doctors shed light on the workload of 'part-time' clinicians, their reasons for working this way and why negative press could turn people away.

Media coverage critical of GPs (Photo: artisteer/Getty Images)

‘I could go and do another job outside of the NHS,' says Yorkshire GP Dr Abbie Brooks, ‘I don’t want to, but if you’re going to start demonising people that don’t work full time, it’s going to drive people away.’

Dr Brooks is a GP partner and trainer who works six clinical sessions a week, spread across three days. Although on paper she is a less-than-full-time GP, Dr Brooks often works over full-time hours each week because of current workload pressures.

After dropping her number of sessions when she qualified, Dr Brooks says recent criticism in some sections of the press directed towards less-than-full-time GPs is undeserved, with people misunderstanding what it means to be a 'part-time' GP, and how they operate.

‘I get in at about quarter to eight and, depending on whether I'm on call and what the afternoon workload is like, I leave at any time from six to half seven in the evening. Generally on one of those days I'll log on when I get home to do my admin, which is another hour or so.

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‘I think it's harder in some respects, being a less-than-full-time GP, because you're always catching up. I know that I might have accumulated some work over the days that I'm not in, for example blood results might have been filed which I then need to action. So you’re always kind of having to play catch up.’

The Yorkshire GP points out that her work also includes hours spent on non-clinical commitments, such as supervising trainees, attending meetings and leading on communications for her practice, which includes writing blogs for the surgery website.

‘I think this balance is good for me. I don't think I could be a full-time partner because I would just be working every hour there was, whereas this allows me to enjoy both my roles, with clinical work and non-clinical work. But it also means I have the time to exercise, for example, and I can pick my kids up from school twice a week, which is really precious to me. It keeps me sane.’

Earlier this week, the BMA warned that media criticism of GPs working part time would result in the loss of more talented clinicians unless negative stereotypes about flexible working were dispelled. It follows sustained attacks over access to face-to-face appointments.

Less than full time

Dr Brooks says: I'm a bit more thick skinned [but] I worry for our new and newly qualified GPs that read these stories and feel really downhearted about it when they’re working so hard for their patients - to get all this bashing really affects your confidence and willingness to do the job.

‘Not everyone should have to be forced to work full time. There are reasons why people can't do that from a health perspective as well, so you don't want to exclude people that are going to be really good doctors because they can't work full time, physically or mentally.’

She adds: ‘We need to stop looking at work as days a week or sessions, and start looking at how GPs are working, or the numbers of patients they are seeing, which is just phenomenal.’

Other GPs have taken to social media over the past week to challenge assumptions that they are not working enough hours, with many emphasising the time they spend on non-patient facing tasks.

East London GP partner Dr Selvaseelan Selvarajah told GPonline that less-than-full-time GPs were an essential part of the workforce. He highlighted the fact that less-than-full-time GPs often worked 12-hour days, and completed hours of non-clinical work in their own time.

He said: ‘I've got a trainee who's a really, really experienced doctor and has two children, so she works 80% of a 40-hour week, which she manages really well. She's such a hard working doctor, but she needs the flexibility to look after her children.

‘This is just one example of what a huge asset less-than-full-time GPs are to our surgeries and our profession and, if we continue to criticise them, we will demoralise these GPs because the headlines make it feel like less-than-full-time doctors don't have the same value as doctors who work full time, and that's not true.’

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