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Newspaper articles in the UK about general practice are currently very negative, and efforts should be stepped up to influence the media to provide a more balanced perspective, according to a study from researchers in Oxford University's Nuffield Department of Primary Care Health Sciences.

The study by Eleanor Barry and Prof Trish Greenhalgh analysed over 400 articles on general practice and 100 on hospital specialties.

The paper was published on 15 January in the British Journal of General Practice and supported by the National Institute for Health Research's Oxford Biomedical Research Centre.

The articles the researchers analysed depicted UK general practice as a service in crisis, with low morale and high burnout, and gaps in patient care. The traditional family doctor service was depicted as being rapidly eroded as a result of privatisation and fragmentation, with GPs portrayed as responsible for the crisis and the resulting negative impact on quality of care.

Hospital specialities were also illustrated as under pressure, but this crisis was depicted as being the fault of the government. GP leaders interviewed in the press were usually defending their speciality; hospital doctors were usually sharing their expertise.

In their paper, the authors said: “General practice in the UK is facing an unprecedented recruitment and retention crisis. A survey of GPs showed that up to 37% are highly likely to leave frontline general practice in the next five years. 

“Qualitative research studies suggest that one of the reasons for this is the lack of perceived value of general practice-based health care by the government, NHS, and the media. This not only affects the morale of doctors, but also shapes the opinions of wider society.

“To counter the depiction in the mainstream media of general practice as disorganised and inefficient, realistic messages about the funding crisis in general practice need to be conveyed. In addition, the reorganisation of primary care services to compensate for the worsening shortage of GPs could and should be depicted in a more positive light,” they said.

They said that initiatives to extend the scope of practice of other professionals such as community pharmacists, nurse practitioners and physician assistants should be highlighted.

Further research is needed, they say, to understand how negative messages in the mainstream media can be systematically countered and replaced by a more evidence-based picture of primary care.

Read more:

General practice in UK newspapers: an empirical analysis of over 400 articles
Eleanor Barry, Trish Greenhalgh
British Journal of General Practice. 2019 doi: https://doi.org/10.3399/bjgp19X700757

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