Viewpoint: False claims about GP access must be challenged - or practices really will close

A high-profile public campaign is vital to counter damaging, false claims that GP practices are closed, argues Dr Shan Hussain.

Dr Shan Hussain
Dr Shan Hussain

As another day begins, yet another story appears in the press alleging that GP practices are closed.

Despite countless frontline GPs attempting to send messages of reassurance to the public that surgeries are open and seeing patients when needed, the false narrative persists along with increasing public attacks against primary care workers.

Notably, a tabloid has recently started a campaign to ‘make GPs see patients face-to-face once again’ - and this follows a daytime television programme publicly seeking experiences from patients who have been unable to access their general practitioner.

GP crisis

It is very easy to forget that general practice was on its knees even before the pandemic started.

Contrary to various reports, GP surgeries have remained open throughout the lockdowns, seeing patients when clinically indicated. Following advice from NHS England, practices have been performing remote consultations where possible for everyone’s protection.

GP teams were acutely aware that if a single member of the practice were to contract COVID-19, the entire team would be forced to isolate for 10 days, which would cause absolute chaos to primary care services for the respective patient population.

Latest statistics confirm that GPs are presently seeing approximately half of their patients face-to-face and working harder than ever before. But the false stories persist and the reputations of frontline primary care workers are increasingly placed under siege.

Pressure on practices

It was recently reported that GPs are twice as likely to face physical or verbal abuse than hospital doctors, while reports have circulated of GP premises being vandalised and attacked.

A suspected arson attempt on a surgery in Nottinghamshire did not receive widespread national coverage, yet had such an attack occured at a hospital it would have inevitably made headline news and led to widespread public condemnation.

In addition to such attacks and rising workload, this misinformation is having a detrimental effect on the mental health of exhausted primary care workers who are desperately trying to provide services in increasingly challenging times.

Tales of professional burnout and staff resignations are increasingly commonplace, and appeals for central help and support have largely been ignored.

Public campaign

To help combat these false reports, we desperately need recognised central figures within the profession to spearhead public campaigns clearly stating that GPs have always been open. We can no longer do this on our own.

The very real fear is that the public will believe these false reports of practices being closed, and subsequently fail to present very serious symptoms that require early treatment.

Also of great concern is the fact that many GPs presently feel isolated, unrepresented, and increasingly likely to leave the profession.

In the absence of a unifying voice to champion our work and correct such uncontrolled false narratives that are actively harming the morale and well-being of our workers, these problems will persist to the point of collapse.

Perhaps then, we will all discover the true effect of what really happens when GP practices are closed.

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