The RCGP and Royal College of Psychiatrists have launched an initiative with the intention of ensuring that mental and physical health are given the same priority in the NHS.
In particular, the two influential organisations wish to reduce the amount of ‘banter’ aimed at general practice, which they believe is discouraging young doctors from entering this vital aspect of the NHS.
College chiefs Professor Maureen Baker and Professor Sir Simon Wessely warn that the ‘systematic denigration’ of general practice and psychiatry is having a hugely negative impact.
And the initiative is timely, as it comes shortly after figures revealed that only 100 extra GPs have joined the workforce over the past six months.
This is despite government aims to boost recruitment and retention of GPs, and the RCGP’s own efforts to raise the profile of general practice amongst students.
Jeremy Hunt has already committed the NHS to recruiting 5,000 further GPs by the end of the decade.
But this seems increasingly unlikely in the existing climate.
Indeed, in an editorial published in the British Journal of General Practice, Professor Baker and Sir Simon note that general practice and psychiatry are the most derided specialties during medical school training.
This can lead medical students to reject careers owing to the stigma associated with them.
And the authors believe that this “perpetuates the view that hospital-based specialties offer more excitement, clinical challenge, and prestige’ than general practice, which is seen as a ‘back-up’ option”.
The article particularly noted that psychiatry is sometimes described as ‘pest control’, and the future of the healthcare system relies on this critical aspect of the profession being given more credence and respect.
Concluding its commentary on the subject, the editorial argued that the image of general practice and psychiatry must be improved.
“The systematic denigration we are seeing in medical schools is founded on misperceptions that maintain a negative impression of both general practice and psychiatry, and a lack of respect for the importance of these specialties. It is exacerbating a shortage of GPs and psychiatrists in the NHS, and directly contravenes efforts to achieve parity of esteem between physical and mental health, causing a negative impact on patient care”.
Professor Baker believes that medical schools can often be a toxic environment.
“It has to stop. The College is doing what we can to challenge misplaced and archaic stereotypes, and our Think GP campaign aims to show what a fantastic career choice general practice can be – but it’s clear that more needs to be done from within medical schools, and medicine as a whole”.
NHS England chief Simon Stevens has recently accused Oxford and Cambridge Universities of failing to promote general practice to medical students.