The College isn’t going to stop speaking truth to political and media power

17 September 2021

Are you getting a wee bit fed up with most of my Just Saying columns highlighting how bad things are in general practice?

I am. I worry about the impact of tirades of negativity on the morale of current GPs, the career intentions of future ones and our reputation as a constructive partner in government.

But the College isn’t going to stop speaking truth to political and media power. Indeed, you may have noticed that we’re upping the ante. We've been saying for some time that we aren’t able to do the job we are trained to do, providing person-centred care. Now we’re saying that GPs are finding it increasingly difficult to even provide safe care for our patients.

You don’t have to be an occupational psychologist to know that stressed people are at greater risk of making mistakes. The very fact that the figures are not yet showing a significant rise in diagnostic and prescribing errors in general practice is a testament to the professionalism of GPs all over the country.

Talking about our members making mistakes is not something that we do lightly. We’ve thought long and hard about the implications, for our own reputation and most importantly for our vulnerable patients.

But we have a duty to say it as it is. So, expect to see more challenges to government and an unrelenting focus on the solutions in our action plan. Alongside some positive stuff, of course.

Latest updates from your College

COVID booster jabs for 12 to 15-year-olds

We responded quickly and, I hope, pragmatically to the decision to extend the COVID vaccination programme to 12 to 15-year-olds, following advice from the four Chief Medical Officers of the UK.

With general practice already under enormous pressure and facing a really tough winter, we’re pleased that the bulk of vaccinations for this younger group will be carried out by the School Age Immunisation Service. However, GPs will undoubtedly pick up the extra responsibility of delivering the majority of booster jabs, including to thousands of children and young people who are immunosuppressed, and of course it’s highly likely that we will be supporting many of our parent patients looking for advice about whether to have their children vaccinated. We are currently producing guidance to help you do this.

With so much public attention still on COVID vaccines, it’s important that the seasonal flu programme isn’t overlooked, especially with a record number of people entitled to a free vaccine this year. It’s also vital that GP teams are able to rely on sufficient flu vaccine supplies to keep everything running like clockwork, along with clear guidance for delivering the booster in tandem.

This week’s announcements around the Winter Plan have confirmed two things: that the pandemic is far from over, and that we urgently need the four governments of the UK to get additional resources and support into general practice as quickly as possible.

Closure of Shielded Patient List

The Department of Health and Social Care is writing all patients on the Shielded Patient List (SPL) to inform them that the programme is closing.

There will be a very small number of patients advised to isolate or reduce their social contact for short periods of time due to the nature of their medical condition or treatment, such as those with a particularly severe degree of immunosuppression. Our eLearning module on shielding vulnerable patients from COVID-19 outlines key information for GPs.

Health impacts of COVID-19

DHSC has also published a report today on the direct and indirect health impacts of COVID-19, including some of the impacts on primary care. The College contributed in a bid to ensure that the evidence reflects some of the challenges and circumstances in general practice, which are not always articulated through data. One example is the impact of limited access to diagnostics over the last year which has been even more acute than usual. We have also given evidence to the Government’s backlog inquiry and will continue to feed into government reviews and policy work on the impacts of COVID-19.

Project ECHO on Post Covid-19 Syndrome (Long Covid)

Our educational programme with Project ECHO on Post Covid-19 syndrome (long Covid) starts 7 October at 19:00. The sessions are free so please register and you’ll be emailed guidance on how to join.

The series is designed so we can share best practice from each other, and the first three sessions are shaping up as follows:

  • 7 October - general introduction to Post Covid syndrome with speakers including GP Dr Rebecca Steed who leads a post COVID clinic in the Midlands.
  • 4 November - Post Covid syndrome in children with Professor Terrence Stephenson and Dr Liz Whittaker.
  • 2 December - new NICE guidelines which are currently out for consultation and will be formally published in November.

Face-to-face appointments

The public debate over face-to-face appointments rages on and we are continuing to present a balanced view of the merits and disadvantages of remote consultations and, of course, to defend the profession.

However angry and demoralised the ongoing attacks on general practice make us feel, it’s really important that GPs are seen to be advocating for patients. We’re making the point that we share patients’ frustrations over long waiting times - but that GP shortages caused by years of underinvestment are the real reason underlying the current situation.

You can read our response to comments on face-to-face appointments made by Health and Social Care Secretary Sajid Javid in the House of Commons on Tuesday.

I’ve also had Opinion pieces published in the BMJ and HSJ about the unwarranted media onslaught on GPs, while journalist Zoe Williams wrote a great piece in the Guardian praising GPs.

Is your MP aware of the challenges facing general practice?

Last week in an oral evidence session with MPs on the Health and Care Public Bill Committee, I emphasised some of the key workforce, workload and wider challenges in general practice. These challenges are outlined in our GP Action Plan alongside a set of recommendations for the government to implement. Please help us by sharing our action plan with your MP. Over 200 emails have now been set to MPs. All you have to do is enter your postcode and a few details, the rest of the work is already done for you.

Health Select Committee Inquiry on Cancer Services

Huge thanks to College Fellow Dr Richard Roope for so brilliantly representing the RCGP and our profession in front of MPs on the Health and Social Care Select Committee as part of the Committee’s inquiry on cancer services. Speaking from experience, these select committees can be nerve-racking, but Richard delivered a really polished performance and eloquently presented the challenges faced by GPs during an extremely tough 'grilling'. The inquiry explored the impact that disruption to cancer services during the COVID-19 pandemic will have on efforts to catch up. You can watch the session or take a look at a summary of the key points raised.

Our call on the Prime Minister to tackle health inequalities

As members of the Inequalities in Health Alliance coalition, we have written to the Prime Minister this week to call for a cross-government strategy to be implemented that considers the role of every department and every available policy lever in tackling health disparities. Over 90 senior representatives have signed the joint letter.

New podcast episode on Skin of Colour

Members have highlighted the urgent need to represent different skin tones in dermatology learning resources for GPs. Our latest eLearning podcast episode focuses on diagnosing and treating patients with darker skin tones. This free resource looks at conditions including eczema, psoriasis, alopecia, and skin cancer, how they appear within more pigmented skin and how they should be managed. You can listen now.

World Patient Safety Day

The World Health Organisation marks 17 September as World Patient Safety Day. Established two years ago, it raises awareness about maternal and child health issues to improve care and prevent avoidable risks and harm to mothers and newborns.

The World Organisation of Family Doctors (WONCA) is also calling upon GPs and family doctors to join this global campaign.

InnovAiT flipbook

InnovAiT is now available in flipbook format for RCGP AiTs and members - just log into MyRCGP and click the InnovAiT flipbook link on the right-hand side (below BJGP). This format offers a more interactive and engaging reading experience. From MyRCGP you can also click on the InnovAiT website link to access all the latest articles and podcasts.

Inspire Awards 2021

The shortlist of award nominees is now live and open for your votes. Please take a look at our shortlisters and read about some of the fantastic work that has been going on. You have until 30 September to cast your vote (voting is for College members only).

The Inspire Awards will be held in Liverpool as part of the RCGP Annual Conference from 18:00, Friday 15 October.

Members can register your place now.

Post written by

Professor Martin Marshall, Chair of RCGP Council

Professor Martin Marshall is Chair of the Royal College of General Practitioners and a GP in Newham, East London. He is also Professor of Healthcare Improvement at UCL in the Department of Primary Care and Population Health. Previously he was Programme Director for Population Health and Primary Care at UCLPartners (2014-2019), Director of Research & Development at the Health Foundation (2007-2012), Deputy Chief Medical Officer for England and Director General in the Department of Health (2006-2007), Professor of General Practice at the University of Manchester (2000-2006) and a Harkness Fellow in Healthcare Policy. 

He is a Fellow of the Royal College of Physicians of London and of the Faculty of Public Health Medicine and was a non-executive director of the Care Quality Commission until 2012. He has advised governments in Singapore, Egypt, Canada and New Zealand, has over 230 publications in the field of quality improvement and health service redesign and his primary academic interest is in maximising the impact of research on practice. In 2005 he was awarded a CBE in the Queen’s Birthday Honours for Services to Health Care. 

A co-founder and driving force of the Rethinking Medicine movement, Martin has a passionate commitment to the values of the NHS, patient care and ensuring the GP voice is central in a time of great change. When he’s not working, he likes being outside, preferably on a mountain or a coastal path with his wife Sue and their puppy. 

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