Guest columnist - Dr Simon Atkins: Twitter helps us to counter GP bashing

I've come to the whole social media thing pretty late. Not because I'm a technophobe, but from scrolling down my wife's Facebook page from time to time, I could never see myself needing to press 'like' when a friend posts a picture of their new shoes.

I have, however, acquired a Twitter account and although still only a novice, I am really getting into it. At first I made some newbie howlers, like accidentally favouriting my own tweets and using the wrong abbreviations and icons.

But after my teenage sons put me right, I got the hang of it and now I regularly check my Twitter feed while the kettle's boiling at work, and at home in the evenings.

I've even managed to pick up 700 followers, which although not up there with Stephen Fry, is quite a flattering number of people who think I have something interesting to say.

For me, that's what Twitter is about: not selfies of stars washing their dishes, or photos of cats doing handstands, but as a social and political tool that gives a voice to ordinary people, who in an age of politics increasingly for and by the rich would otherwise go unheard. The withdrawal of the 'mental patient' Halloween costumes last year after a Twitter uproar being a great example.

But most of all, it has opened up a whole new world of opportunity for communicating with likeminded doctors, sharing the frustrations of the changes in the NHS and the stresses and strains of the job, and passing on tips for handling them.

I've also been pointed towards research papers, books and articles I might otherwise never have seen and been given recommendations about interesting talks and meetings.

In this epidemic of GP bashing by the press, it's also a great medium by which to challenge inaccuracies and put across positive messages: we do a good job and we're not money-grabbing.

Trying to communicate all that in 140 characters is a bit of a challenge, but as the 'mental patient' example shows us, if enough people are tweeting the same thing, the message does get through.

  • Dr Atkins is a GP in Bristol. Follow him on Twitter @DrSAtkins. If you are interested in writing a column for GP, email

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