Last week I attended my first British Medical Association Local Medical Committee conference, which was an eye opening experience both in terms of the rowdy heckle-ridden atmosphere and the strength of feeling among GPs about certain issues.
The main thrust of the conference was that GPs are incredibly frustrated and in GMC chair, Dr Chaang Nagpaul’s words, there is a “potential catastrophic timebomb ready to explode”.
The event was set in a large lecture theatre in the Institute for Education, west London, where an LMC leader or GP had around two minutes to propose a motion they think the conference needs to pass, then others can argue against it or parts of it, before it is taken to a vote. There is a lot of heckling and shouting-out along the way, which surprised me at first but became part of the experience.
Nagpaul opened the conference and the annual report “with a heavy heart”, as he said “I didn’t take on this job to watch my profession drown a death”. His emotional speech got a standing ovation and signalled that the government will face strong opposition from the GPC on key policy areas, such as seven day working. He also called for cooperation within primary care and vital action on recruitment and funding.
The issue of recruitment was key, and one speaker said that after placing a job advert for a partner for their general practice, they had only one response. To make matters worse, it was from a Polish waitress who misunderstood the advert and thought the vacancy was for a life partner for a doctor.
While the subject matter was serious the delegates had not lost their sense of humour. Whether it came from one GP making his motion as in full Superman fancy dress, or another three GPs acting out their motion as Cameron and Hunt the general air of frustration was punctuated with laughs.
As a reporter new to the health beat I have, until now, mainly met GPs in 10-minute bursts as a patient – pretty unaware of the pressures facing general practice. It was insightful to spend two days hearing about the pressures facing a profession predominately motivated by a desire to help people. Burnout and bankruptcy were the buzzwords.
It’s hard not to share their frustration at the government promises of a 7 day service with 8pm GP access when the current system in already under so much pressure.
Perhaps policy makers will listen to these suggestions and pleas for help, before more GPs decide to retire, medical students choose not to train as GPs, and as Nagpaul said, the timebomb goes OFF.