The British Medical Association (BMA) and the Royal College of GPs (RCGP) have hit back following the Daily Mail’s campaign for GPs to see patients face-to-face as the ‘default’ option.

Further reading:

The chair of the BMA’s GP committee Dr Richard Vautrey said the anti-GP rhetoric in the media risks fuelling a climate of “spiralling abuse”, which could lead to more incidents such as the attack on four staff members at a GP practice in Manchester.

“It is damaging to both doctors and their patients and serves no real purpose other than to give backing to the growing trend of abuse, vitriol and violence that is being directed towards our healthcare workers,” he said.

The BMA insist that GPs are seeing millions of patients face-to-face every week and for the media to suggest face-to-face consultations have not been happening or need to ‘begin again’ is “clearly wrong”.

Dr Vautrey says this "misinformation" creates "a dangerous breeding ground for discontent." He continued: "Staff being harassed and slandered on social media, being subjected to verbal abuse, intimidation and physical attacks cannot and should not be allowed to happen."

A "chronic shortage of GPs"

Professor Martin Marshall, Chair of the RCGP, says the College shares patients’ frustrations with long waiting times and difficultly getting through to the surgery, and patients should have access to high quality care when they need it. However, the “chronic shortage of GPs” makes this “increasingly difficult to guarantee.”

“The underlying issue is that general practice is overwhelmed. Supply has fallen way behind demand and our workforce is not sufficient to deliver care and meet the complex needs of a growing and ageing population.

“Successive governments have failed to invest in the family doctor service for more than a decade and GP numbers have been allowed to decline while our workload has escalated in volume and complexity. The number of full-time equivalent (FTE) GPs fell by 4.5% between September 2015 and March 2021, meaning that the ratio of patients to FTE GPs has increased by almost 10%,” he said.

For this reason, the RCGP says that GPs are finding it increasingly hard to deliver safe and personalised care, and although recruitment to GP training is looking positive, more needs to be done if the government are to reach their manifesto target of 6,000 more FTE GPs in the next three years.

Currently, six in ten GPs say their mental health has deteriorated over the past year, and around a third (34%) expect to leave the profession within the next five years. This means more than 14,000 GPs could be lost from frontline patient care.

The College are now calling for a system-wide programme to eradicatebureaucratic burdens and unnecessary workload, to prevent GP burnout and allow GPs more time to care for patients.

A third of GPs expect to leave the profession within the next five years

The BMA have since written to the Health Secretary, Sajid Javid, urging him to take preventative action against GP abuse by creating tougher legislation and public support for the profession.

This includes an increased sentence for assault on emergency workers as well as heavier punishments for verbal abuse, even when the threat of physical violence is not present.

The Association says the Government must also publicly support the profession by condemning “the onslaught of abuse and media scapegoating of GPs and their staff”.

BMA council chair Dr Chaand Nagpaul writes in the letter: “Rather than endorsing a media narrative which scapegoats GPs, show them your support for their dedication. Without this support more and more GPs will leave the service, making the manifesto pledge of 6,000 additional GPs inadequate, even if were achievable.”

The Association has now invited the Secretary of State to meet with the BMA GP committee representatives to discuss the “unsustainable pressures in general practice and what support the Government should be offering to ensure patients get the care they need.”

They also ask for a separate emergency summit to discuss the “unacceptable level of abuse being levelled against GPs and what further steps – including legislation – must be taken to keep staff safe.”