RCGP chair 'livid' over attacks on general practice from 'armchair critics'

General practice has risen 'heroically' to unprecedented challenges during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to RCGP chair Professor Martin Marshall - who said he was 'livid' at attacks on the profession from 'armchair critics who don't get it'.

RCGP chair Professor Martin Marshall (Photo: Pete Hill)
RCGP chair Professor Martin Marshall (Photo: Pete Hill)

In a speech to delegates at a virtual RCGP event on Thursday Professor Marshall said any sensible person would see the rapid transformation of GP services to keep patients safe during the pandemic as 'cause for praise and celebration'.

He said the college would continue to ‘vigorously defend’ general practice against ‘unwarranted criticisms’, condemning 'those who are playing politics by looking for COVID scapegoats' - and warning of a tough winter ahead for the profession.

Professor Marshall argued that ‘undoable workloads’ remained the biggest impediment to GPs’ ability to deliver quality care - insisting that he would continue to fight for ‘unhurried consultations’.

GP workload

The RCGP chair said 10-minute appointments no longer had to be ‘the most common mode of consultation’ because of expanded use of and confidence in remote consulting.

But he stressed that face-to-face consultations would always be an essential part of general practice, and confirmed that the college would strengthen its focus on relationship-based care.

GP practices have faced a wave of abuse and complaints in recent weeks after a letter from NHS England triggered damaging media coverage about access to face-to-face appointments.

The criticism came as in-person consultations and home visits surged by more than 50% in the past month. Telephone consultations have been at record levels since the start of the pandemic.

'Armchair critics'

Professor Marshall hailed the work of GPs during the pandemic. He said: ‘While the vast majority of people do recognise the exceptional achievements of general practice there are a small but vocal number of armchair critics who don’t seem to get it.

‘And these criticisms make me livid because they gain a disproportionate amount of coverage in the media and have such a negative impact on the morale of the general practice workforce.’

He added: ‘I’m not saying that all GPs have got it right all of the time, of course we haven’t, any more than many others in these unprecedented times.

‘But those who don’t understand the importance of maintaining good infection control processes, who don’t understand the need to prioritise those patients with greatest need over those with greatest want… and, worst of all, those who are playing politics by looking for COVID scapegoats, should be ashamed of themselves.’

Overwhelming workload

Professor Marshall added that a dip in consultations during the peak of the pandemic had afforded GPs the headspace to ‘redesign how we deliver care’; something which he said ‘felt great’ and allowed clinicians to rediscover their ‘mojo’.

He said the college would continue to fight against overwhelming workloads experienced by clinicians. ‘As a college we have long made the case for addressing undoable workload. We were given a brief taste of what it feels like in May and we will continue to work hard on your behalf to recreate what Victor Montori calls “unhurried consultations”,' he said.

A recent GPonline opinion poll found that four in five family doctors are currently facing levels of workload that are above normal - with rising demand for consultations and the backlog of NHS treatment adding to pressure.

The RCGP chair also looked ahead to the future of general practice, suggesting that he wanted to see some form of near-universal triage become a permanent fixture. But he admitted that the profession would have to ‘work with patients’ to achieve success.

‘We need a process which encourages self-care, helps point patients in the most appropriate direction, and allows our precious expertise to be focused on those with greatest need,’ he said.

Top GPs urged caution recently over health secretary Matt Hancock’s suggestion that all future GP consultations should be carried out remotely unless there is ‘a compelling clinical reason' not to.

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