Letters, calls and emails: Fight fire with fire in this PR war with government

Dear Editor

LMC secretaries have had their meeting in London about the current crisis regarding our non-existent pay award. The outcome seems to be to continue as before.

I accept that concerted industrial action would be difficult to organise and resisted by a proportion of GPs, and would cause annoyance to patients but these are not reasons for rejecting this option out of hand.

GP is full of threats to general practice: the government has convinced a section of the public that we are overpaid; clear attempts are being made to destabilise practice by giving bits of it to supermarkets and chemists; new hurdles are being introduced in the form of appraisal and revalidation.

These will put practices even more under the government’s thumb.

Our zero pay award has been transmuted into a 5 per cent pay cut, because pay is static and expenses rise.

Why has this and the rebuttal of anti-GP spin not been publicised? Are the GPC, and GPs as a group, unwilling to get their hands dirty by using press releases in the same way as the government?

General practice has delivered. The quality framework has demonstrated how much effort is being put into chronic disease management and prevention. Our patients still love us individually, although many have little sympathy with the profession after assimilating a steady diet of negative spin.

This is a war. The battles are fought in the media. We have lots of ammunition: patients trust us; it is not general practice that creates and sustains lengthy waits for treatment. Given support and resources, general practice could take over even more of the work now done in hospitals, as is recognised by the belated attempts to reconfigure medical care in Northern Ireland by the introduction of the Integrated Clinical Assessment and Treatment Service.

In battle, nice guys come last. Collectively, through the GPC, we can afford to hire the best public relations folk in the business. Often good news is no news but the media is hungry at times for any news, and public opinion will respond to a steady drip of information even if this is not always sensational.

We could of course point out the folly of a health secretary intervening in parliament in individual clinical care where the evidence is incomplete, and we could underline the distress and confusion regarding the appointment of next year’s junior specialists.

We need to ask the profession how it feels and what it wants. Modern IT makes this cheap and easy and I do not think it is yet illegal.

We can’t afford not to have professional public relations if we are to remain a true profession, and not degenerate in the way that some teaching has done.

It is time to fight back.

Dr Lewis Miller

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