The media is responsible for encouraging public negativity towards GPs and damaging general practice's relations with the government, Health Minister Ben Bradshaw claimed yesterday (18 July 2008).
The minister said the way the media had represented the issue of GP pay was largely to blame for ill-feeling among the profession.
Mr Bradshaw said that 10 years ago GPs were "rewarded appallingly" and the 2004 contract was introduced to resolve this. "We make no excuses for the new contract," he added.
The minister said the Daily Mail and other newspapers were to blame for describing GPs as "fat cats", following pay increases since 2004, and were therefore guilty of denigrating "one of the most respected professions".
"We don't control what the Daily Mail or others say about GPs," he said.
Mr Bradshaw made the remarks at an NHS Alliance conference on practice-based commissioning in London. He was responding to a delegate who said that this has been "one of the worst 12-month periods to be a GP", and asked how the government would restore the "goodwill of the profession" it had lost.
Mr Bradshaw said: "I completely concede that the profession feels this is a difficult time."
Referring to the requirement for longer opening hours, Mr Bradshaw said that, while he understood that many practices would not be happy with this, politicians were "democratically accountable to people who pay for healthcare", and access was one of the biggest issues that arose in consultations with the public.
Mr Bradshaw rejected the idea that extended hours was primarily aimed at middle-class commuter voters – he said many "blue-collar workers" lose money by taking time off from work to see their doctor.
He added that UK primary care was the "best in the world … but we can always improve".
Dr David Colin-Thome, National Clinical Director for Primary Care, who was also present at the conference, took a different view over the media.
Dr Colin-Thome, who called on primary care to be more ambitious, said: "Whether you like it or not, some [of general practice's] accountability is through the media."
Your comments: (Terms and conditions apply)
"No, they are responding to negative government briefings. How naive does Ben Bradshaw think we are?" – Name and address withheld
"Not entirely. One of the main protagonists is Ben Bradshaw. A classic example was his suggestion of 'gentlemen's agreements' between GPs with regard to registration. He subsequently was forced to back down on this when questioned closely by Jonathon Dimbleby on a broadcast of Any Questions. This man is a loose cannon who the government should get rid of as soon as possible" – Allan Stewart, Wirral
"No I don't believe it is, the bad feeling is coming from ministers and the DH, and the media are playing into their hands" – Lynette McGuigan, location withheld