Media attacks threaten to put medical students off general practice

‘Very public criticism’ of general practice in the media has left medical students picking up ‘negative views’ about careers in the profession, the co-chair of the Medical Schools Council (MSC) has warned.

Media attacks (Photo: Empato/Getty Images)
Media attacks (Photo: Empato/Getty Images)

GPs have faced with a wave of criticism in recent months, with media campaigns demanding that GPs ‘get back to seeing patients face-to-face’, despite practices conducting around 60% of all appointments in person and record numbers of appointments in total.

The BMA, RCGP and others have defended the profession - arguing that practices need the support of the government to improve access to services and keep patients safe.

However, MSC co-chair Professor Malcolm Reed suggested smear campaigns against GPs have affected the desirability of entering a career in general practice, with ‘very damaging’ short-term and long-term effects.

Medical students

His comments follow a report by the MSC, which recommends that the number of places for medical students should be increased by 5,000 to reduce over-reliance on international medical graduates.

Speaking to The Times about the effect of negative media reports, Professor Reed said: ‘A lot of GPs will say they are increasingly dealing with very complex cases. And it’s difficult at the moment for students because the signals they pick up around general practice are very negative.

‘The very public criticism of the public conversation about general practice, particularly in relation to issues like face-to-face or remote consultations is very damaging for GPs’ and public confidence. While these issues need to be addressed, the nature of these criticisms is very damaging in the short and potentially long term.’

The report concludes that the UK is currently too dependent on international medical graduates, who make up over half of all doctors joining the medical register. But it acknowledges the ‘invaluable contribution’ of this workforce.

GP trainees

Principal challenges to facilitating medical school expansion, according to the report, are the cost and availability of clinical placements for medical students. It suggests that new mechanisms for tariff funding could help to reduce the overall cost of training students and increasing placement capacity within GP practices and hospitals.

GP trainee numbers are currently at the record levels, with 3,690 doctors accepting GP training positions after the first round of recruitment for 2021. Officials confirmed last year that the number of GPs recruited in 2020 was the highest in NHS history after 3,793 doctors accepted posts.

However, despite strong GP trainee recruitment in recent years, the overall GP workforce remains in decline - with 10% fewer fully-qualified, full-time equivalent GPs now compared with five years ago.

Earlier this month a BMA survey found that more than half (54%) of GPs would consider leaving the NHS if the government did not provide them with the support they needed. A further 66% said that they would reduce their current hours.

Former health secretary Jeremy Hunt argued recently that the only action which would prevent more GPs from opting for part-time hours or retiring early was a ‘clear plan to end the unsustainable pressure’ on general practice teams.

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