UK media depicts GPs as incompetent and morally deficient

  • Dawn O'Shea
  • UK Professional News
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Research by the Nuffield Department of Primary Care Health Sciences at the University of Oxford has shown that UK media coverage on general practice generally presents the specialty in a negative light.

In an analysis of over 400 news articles on general practice and 100 on hospital specialties, general practice articles depicted the service as being in crisis, with low morale, high burnout, and gaps in patient care. Access to general practice was usually reported as inadequate and the organisation of care was often seen as inefficient. Furthermore, GPs were usually presented as having poor clinical performance and negative personal characteristics.

GPs were portrayed as being responsible for the workforce crisis and the resulting negative impact on patient care. In contrast, hospital specialties were also depicted as being under pressure, but the crisis was presented as being the fault of the government. GP leaders were reported as usually defending their specialty, while hospital doctors were usually sharing their expertise.

Presenting the research in the British Journal of General Practice, study authors Eleanor Barry and Trish Greenhalgh said there is a need to counter the depiction of general practice as disorganised and inefficient, and that realistic messages about the funding crisis need to be conveyed.

Organisation of primary care services to compensate for the worsening GP shortage could and should be depicted in a more positive light, they said.

They say the finding that GPs tend to be depicted not just as clinically incompetent but also as morally deficient highlights the need for a strong and consistent counter-narrative. They suggest it might be time for a concerted campaign to remind the public of the core values of primary care.