"Are you sure you want to be a GP?"

Amidst the recent media storm surrounding the NHS and general practice in particular, I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve been asked – as a current FY2 – ‘but… are you sure you want to be a GP?’ The thinly veiled concern in this question strikes a chord; I’d privately been asking myself whether I was making the right decision. Was it really true that the public opinion of GPs is so poor? Has it really become impossible to deliver good care? Bleak thoughts of a hopelessly stretched, even crumbling system bothered me for weeks as I weighed up my options. 

These days, discussions with foundation doctor friends quickly turn to our upcoming speciality applications, and it’s clear that I’m not the only one wrestling with the noise around primary care. Although deeply concerning, this is unlikely to be a surprise: Professor Martin Marshall himself states ‘the current onslaught is the worst I can remember in over 30 years of being a GP’ (BMJ Opinion, Sept. 21). Headlines range from accusing GP practices of being shut throughout the pandemic, refusing to see patients, to attacks on ‘idle’ GPs as individuals. Whatever the journalistic angle, the result is the same: ‘demoralised and exhausted GPs… [fighting] a war of attrition’ (BMJ Opinion,  Sept. 21). 

Yet the statistics tell a sharply contrasting story. In August 2021 alone there were 25.5million GP appointments, with 46.3% of those being delivered on the same day as booking (NHS Digital). This equates to c.90% of patient contact with the NHS, and indeed there are now 22% more patients per practice than in 2015 (BMA, Sept 21).  GP practices are most certainly not shut, and I knew instinctively that the headlines were sensationalist, but with such a big career decision looming, I felt the need to look outwards for some reassurance about the profession. 

I decided to trawl social media for commentary around this issue, from people actually doing the job. I was overwhelmed by the sheer volume of committed and passionate doctors sharing their perspectives from primary care.  Dr Lisa Finnikin set up the Twitter account @YourGP2021 in September this year, with an aim of ‘showcasing the brilliant hardworking humans behind general practice’.

A handful of these humans have kindly agreed to their commentary being included in this article. Dr Tristan Brodie, a GP in Worcestershire, posted ‘I am your GP. I want to understand your story and work with you to optimise your health.’

London based GP & GP Trainer Dr Mohan Sekeram wrote ‘I am your GP. The past year has been challenging for all of us. We are working hard every day to support what matters to you. We are here for you. We really are doing our best. We are #TeamGP’.

Dr Shan Hussain also used the platform to send a message to his patients: ‘I am your GP. I love my work. I love meeting you, talking to you and finding ways to help you. I want the absolute best for you’.

Although these tweets were largely written for the benefit of patients, I too found comfort in the words expressing the essence of general practice. From an early stage in medical school, I was drawn to the models of whole-person care and health promotion that I saw in my primary care placements. Scrolling through hundreds of comments from GPs passionate and proud of their work, in spite of the difficulties posed by underfunding, the pandemic, and now a media war, was deeply moving. The tweets and replies all said one thing: general practice cares. 

As I write, we are heading towards another difficult winter with the pressures on the NHS mounting once again and for junior doctors choosing a speciality, it might well feel like there are no good options. However, the outpouring of pride and commitment to primary care on social media, from doctors and patients alike, have inspired me to continue with my path to joining #TeamGP.

About the writer

Chloë Gamlin is an academic foundation doctor (AF2) in Bristol currently working on research into trauma-informed care at the centre for academic primary care, and was previously the President of Cambridge GPSoc.