UK newspapers “on the warpath”: media analysis of remote consulting in 2021
Mroz G., Papoutsi C., Greenhalgh T.
Background: Following a large-scale, pandemic-driven shift to remote consulting in UK general practice in 2020, 2021 saw a partial return to in-person consultations. This occurred in the context of extreme workload pressures due to backlogs, staff shortages and task shifting. Aim: To study media depictions of remote consultations in UK general practice at a time of system stress. Design and Setting: Thematic analysis of national newspaper articles about remote GP consultations from two time periods: 13–26 May 2021, following an NHS England letter, and 14–27 Oct 2021, following a government-backed directive, both stipulating a return to in-person consulting. Method: Articles were identified through, and retrieved from, LexisNexis. A coding system of themes and narrative devices was developed iteratively to inform data analysis. Results: 25 articles reported on the letter and 75 on the directive. Newspaper coverage of remote consulting was strikingly negative. The right-leaning press in particular praised the return to in-person consultations, depicting remote care as creating access barriers and compromising safety. Two newspapers led national campaigns pressuring the government to require GPs to offer in-person consultations. GPs were quoted as reluctant to return to an “in-person by default” service (as it would further pressurise a system already close to breaking point). Conclusion: Remote consultations have become associated in the media with poor practice. Some newspapers were actively leading the “war” on general practice rather than merely reporting on it. Proactive dialogue between practitioners and the media might help minimise polarisation and improve perceptions around general practice.