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January 2019

Press portrayal of general practice ‘very negative’

A study to assess how general practice is reported says UK newspapers are portraying general practice as a service in crisis, with low morale, and high levels of burnout, leaving gaps in patient care – and GPs are being held responsible.

The hospital service is also depicted as under pressure but this crisis is blamed on the Government.

The study was prompted by claims that the negative coverage of general practice is one of the reasons for falling GP recruitment in the context of ‘the biggest GP workforce crisis since the NHS began’. Researchers analysed all articles on general practice or GPs published in the 12 months to October 2017, and compared them with a large sample of articles relating to hospital medicine.

GPs were described as retiring early because high salaries had filled their ‘pension pots’, enabling them to do so. Younger GPs were described as lazy because many now prefer to work part-time due to family commitments – but the press implies they have a duty to society to work full time hours.

Even reports of practices being forced to close were framed in terms of patients being inconvenienced and put at risk.

Comparable articles about hospital doctors blamed the workforce crisis as being caused by Government decisions, and hospital doctors striving ‘heroically’ to deliver the best care in difficult circumstances.

When GPs made mistakes, the press described them as ‘bungling’ while similar errors by hospital doctors were attributed to the pressures they worked under, not their own incompetence.

The authors say that given the falling numbers of doctors entering general practice it is ‘an urgent priority’ to challenge this negative depiction by the media.

Barry E, Greenhalgh T. Br J Gen Pract 2019;