A Letter to Professor Steve Field
14th December 2015
Dear Professor Field
I noticed the Daily Mail printed your latest comments on a Monday – what is usually a crushingly busy day of the week for UK GPs. I am not sure if you work as a GP on a Monday but if you did you would see what pressure GPs and their staff work under due to the failings of those working from comfortable offices in London – politicians and senior managers like yourself.
The comment that hit the headlines was that ‘GPs have failed as a profession’ and you were 'ashamed to be a GP'. My jaw dropped when I read this. I just couldn’t believe someone who had once led the profession as Chair of the Royal College of General Practitioners could say this. I had to read it again for it to sink in properly.
UK GPs saw this comment you made and their morale sank even lower than the subterranean depths it is now at. As they battled with their 12-14 hour day seeing around 60-70 patients or more they wondered why you were beating them with a stick again.
General practice is on the verge of collapse Professor Field. Our workload is unsustainable. It is not safe and we have had enough. We have seen politicians cut the funding to our once world renowned profession year on year. Once we had around 13% of the NHS pie. Now it is down to around 7%. To see such a dramatic drop provides one reason why GPs are leaving in their droves to retire early or work abroad. It explains why young doctors are running a mile from GP training schemes. It explains why GPs are having to lock up and close their surgeries for good as they cannot recruit new GPs and have to give up or they will crack up (who would have ever thought we would see GP surgeries closing down across the UK). It explains why GPs are suffering mental illness due to the pressures and stress of working in the current NHS. We have seen cuts to services by politicians which directly impact on the care we provide. Social care has been cut to the bone and this directly impacts on the lack of hospital beds and inability for us to treat our patients effectively.
Another reason we see general practice on its knees is down to the ever increasing burden of over regulation and micro management of our day to day work by the likes of the organisation you work for – CQC. We are one of the most regulated and monitored professions in the world and we spend weeks on end filling out forms and endless paperwork of dubious value when we could be seeing patients and dealing with ill people.
I accept UK general practice is not perfect and there are parts of it that need to dramaticially improve their standards. All GPs wish to support and encourage colleagues to provide high quality care but why do you label all of us as failures? Have you any idea of the damage you do when you say such things. Aspects of the media, political classes and think tanks who wish to see a privatised general practice service will lap up your comments because you are the Chief Inspector of General Practice - the man who should be listened to. GPs who work such long hours they can hardly drive home safely will just wonder whether it is all worth it. Many will give up when they hear you say such things.
I have met you a few times Professor Field and we have discussed issues around training in general practice. I was openly critical when you accepted the role offered to you by former Conservative Health Secretary Andrew Lansley to chair the NHS Future Forum. That Forum allowed the disastrous Health and Social Care Bill to have more legitimacy and you played a crucial role for the coalition government in 2011 by helping it become an Act of Parliament. This was at a time when every part of the NHS opposed that piece of government legislation.
As a GP yourself I hope you will now do what all GPs should do – reflect on their actions and think whether you have done the right thing. This latest action by you was not, I feel, your finest hour. I hope you will apologise to the tens of thousands of GPs and surgery staff who deal with a million patients a day under the most testing of circumstances. They don’t deserve being criticised yet again with your comments which too often are ill thought through and hugely damaging.
I did wonder what the RCGP thought about all this themselves what with you being a Fellow of their College, Chief Inspector of General Practice and former Chair of the RCGP and feeling that GPs have ‘failed as a profession’.
Please don’t make any more comments to demoralise and depress my colleagues any more. We really don’t need it. We want to do our very best for our patients but you are making that really really hard for us to do. Please direct your critical comments to those who deserve them and who are responsible for the mess the NHS is in - the politicians. They are the ones who have truly failed our profession Professor Field.
Dr David Wrigley
GP, Carnforth, Lancashire