Since it’s founding in 1948, the NHS has been a shining example of universal healthcare. But gone are the days of your ‘local village doctor’, and the landscape of medical care has changed to adapt to new challenges over the decades. Diseases that once killed us are now rendered ‘long term’, and as our population ages the very foundations of the NHS have begun to strain under the weight. Thankfully, General Practitioners have been more than amicable gatekeepers, keeping the NHS afloat.
What is General Practitioner?
Aside from ‘a local family doctor’, the role of a GP is often misunderstood. They do not exist solely to treat colds and reassure the worried, but are an integral part of a complicated and nuanced system. A GP acts as a point of first contact, assessing the nature and severity of disease and designing a safe and thorough plan for the patient. This often means balancing risk with resource availability, and this is not easy.
It doesn’t matter which symptom a patient has, when confronted with a problem (mild or life threatening,) a GP must decide the course of action. This could be simple reassurance, or sending a blood test, all the way through to calling an ambulance then and there. A GP is not expected to know brain surgery, but is expected to have an idea of when and how soon it may be needed.
It also falls to them to make sure the patient gets the right treatment, even if its not in their hands. Its a responsibility for sure. And it is done under incredible time pressure, liaising with myriad staff, services and local organisations. Simply put they are not just doctors, but gatekeepers for the entirety of medical care. And they work harder than the media would have you believe.
The Life Of A GP
A General Practitioner Certification requires medical school plus years of further training. This is usually around five years post medical school, which means including university, training often lasts over a decade. And that’s not just it, GPs are expected to continue learning their entire lives, keeping up with new treatments, changes to the NHS and often dwindling financial situations which make their job harder.
A good GP is not just a walking medical textbook, they are also a businessman, risk analyst, communicator, friend and academic. They work very long hours, often hosting several clinics a day balanced with administrative duties, following up tests, referring patients, dealing with local authorities and often the police and other legal entities, And somehow still manage to find time to have their own lives.
So, why are they heroes?
Well aside from such dedication and challenge, a GP is knowingly entering an ever more challenging environment. It is not a cushy job, although when compared to acute surgical doctors it may seem so. The level of responsibility is huge, and being behind a desk doesn’t change that. They still carry lives in their hands. Miss a subtle sign of cancer, that’s life or death. And with around eight minutes per consultation, you can imagine the stress.
As the news so often reports, the number of GPs in deprived areas is decreasing. This is because of a shortfall, and the remaining doctors are servicing greater populations. Local support organisations and social care are overwhelmed, and the patient looks to the GP for resolution. It is an uphill battle, and the hill is getting steeper. Yet everyday these people go into work knowing that their job is to keep the NHS going.
And most importantly, keep patients safe. That’s pretty heroic if you ask me.
The opinions within this article reflect those of Dr Janaway and do not necessarily reflect those of his affiliations. If you are suffering from a health issue please contact your local healthcare provider. If you wish to read more about medicine and Science, take a trip over to www.drbenjanaway.com. No financial incentive has been made for this article. Image courtesy of Flickr