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Dr Mary McCarthy: GPs are unrecognised specialists

Health | Published:

We need to do more to value GPs, and recognition as specialists is a first step.

This week the British Medical Association and the Royal College of GPs released a joint statement calling on all four governments in the UK to recognise general practitioners as specialists.

General practice is currently in the midst of a crisis and central to this are difficulties with the recruitment and retention of GPs.

The statement acknowledges the fact that there is still no formal recognition of general practice as a specialism and calls for the same status to be granted to GPs as senior doctors in other branches of the profession. Given the increased pressure on the NHS in the last few years, general practice has come under considerable strain.

For GPs currently working in the health service, the demands being placed upon them very often outweighs the level of reward and job satisfaction they receive. As a result, GPs are feeling undervalued and this inevitably leads to more people wanting to leave the profession as well as doctors being deterred from joining.

There are numerous academic studies stating that GPs are specialists in family medicine or general practice and it is understandable. They are the first point of contact for 90 per cent of medical presentations. They are accustomed, therefore, to dealing with undifferentiated diagnoses and are routinely confronted with vague and often seemingly trivial symptoms that may be related to significant disease.

They are the first to hear the patient’s story, the first to examine the patient, the first to organise investigations and the first to suggest a possible diagnosis or cause for the symptoms.

The vast majority of European countries as well as Australia, Canada, and the US recognise general practitioners as specialists – the UK unfortunately lags behind.

There are a lot of things to consider when doctors are choosing what branch of medicine they would like to pursue in respect of personal, social, financial, domestic and professional considerations.

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For those doctors in the early stages of choosing their career, their perception of value of general practice within the wider healthcare sphere will play an important role.

Right across the NHS, staff are working in increasingly difficult conditions and in general practice medical students are aware of the extra burden and increasing workload, such as administration and medical litigation, that has become more prevalent in the role.

We need to make sure that there is long-term investment in general practice to provide the resources and workforce to ease the current pressures that are pushing many doctors to breaking point. First and foremost, doctors are there to care for their patients and should be given the time and resources to be able to do so.

We need to value general practitioners because we are losing them rapidly. Older GPs are retiring early and younger GPs are emigrating to countries where conditions are more favourable.

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The statement recognises that “the lack of formal recognition of general practice as a specialty is holding back medical students and junior doctors from pursuing a career as GPs”.

Formal recognition would raise the status of general practice and would help to counter current misconceptions about the importance of this profession. The statement is a timely reminder about how much we need GPs.

* Dr Mary McCarthy has worked at Belvidere Surgery in Shrewsbury for more than 20 years. She is chairman of the local medical committee and represents Shropshire, North Staffordshire and South Staffordshire on the General Practitioners Committee of the BMA.

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