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College Chair says huge thank you to ‘remarkable and inspiring’ GPs as he marks first year in office

RCGP Chair Martin Marshall has said a ‘huge thank you’ to GPs for their ‘remarkable and inspiring’ response to the pandemic in a speech to mark his first year in office.

Professor Marshall told the audience at the RCGP’s virtual Annual General Meeting that he ‘couldn’t be prouder’ of the way in which general practice and the College have reacted to the COVID-19 crisis.

“The media and politicians’ attention may have been on Intensive Care Units but, quietly and compassionately as always, GPs were getting on with the new ‘day job’ - embracing technology and transforming our ways of working so that we could continue to deliver care and services to our patients, albeit in a different way in order to control the virus and keep our patients and our teams safe,” he said.

“To all our members, from the Foundation doctors and trainee GPs who were thrown in at the deep end to the retired colleagues who came back in their thousands to help the NHS effort, a huge thank you on behalf of the College.”

Professor Marshall, a GP in East London, admitted that his first year as College Chair had not been what he had anticipated:

“This time last year, I outlined my priorities for my three-year term of office -  the importance of reducing GP workload and boosting the primary care workforce; of reinvigorating whole person, relationship-based care; of providing practical help to support new ways of working within teams and across networks; and how we had to introduce new ways of engaging a larger proportion of members in the work of the College.

“I had it all mapped out - but life is what happens while you’re making plans, and we all know what happened next”

He highlighted the many ways in which GPs had contributed to the pandemic effort.

“The way in which general practice has transformed, almost overnight, to meet the challenges of COVID-19 and the needs of patients has been remarkable and inspiring.

“You have cared for those most vulnerable to the virus – those who are shielding, those in care homes, our Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic communities, those at the end of life and those in deprived areas. You have worked in hot COVID hubs and the Nightingale hospitals and helped NHS 111 and its equivalents in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. And you have done so with remarkable compassion, professionalism and fortitude.

“Now you are supporting patients with long-term symptoms of the virus and the psychological effects of the pandemic; managing the backlog of patients who chose not to seek care during lockdown - and gearing up to roll-out the first COVID vaccine at the same time as deliv­ering the biggest-ever and most complicated mass flu vaccination programme. All of this in addition to delivering care to more than a million patients every day who present to us with conditions unrelat­ed to COVID-19.”

Professor Marshall also reflected on the College’s work on behalf of its members over the past year - including the development of the new Recorded Consultation exam in just 10 weeks. 

“This was an extraordinary achievement for the College, our examiners and our trainees who had to deal with the worry and uncertainty of having their MRCGP cancelled. As a result, more than 1500 new GPs who would otherwise have remained in training are delivering care for patients,” he said.

He described how the College had brought together a panel of GP experts experienced in previous pandemics to develop resources at pace to support GPs - and gave examples of how the College had influenced the governments of the four nations on behalf of the profession.

“We have listened to our members’ concerns and used our influence to campaign on tech-enabled consulting, PPE, testing and tracing, shielding, care homes, workload prioritisation, end-of-life care, anticipatory care planning, ethical issues and supporting returners,” he said.

Turning to the ‘devastating impact’ of the pandemic experienced by Black Asian and Minority Ethnic communities, he said the defining events of the summer following the death of George Floyd and subsequent activism by the Black Lives Matter movement had demonstrated the need for the College ‘to accelerate’ its work to address racism and discrimination.

“As a College, and as a profession, we all have a responsibility to identify and call out discrimination and to lead more by our example. We have a lot of work to do but I hope we are already making progress and at Council, we will be welcoming five newly-elected members and one member who has been re-elected – all of whom are women from Black, Asian or minority ethnic backgrounds. We’ve always been a diverse College and we are committed to greater diversity in our leadership,”

Concluding his summary of the past 12 months, Professor Marshall said:

“Our College and our specialty have changed significantly in my first year as Chair. But what doesn’t change is the trusting relationship between GP and patient, the foundation stone on which general practice was built and continues to grow stronger.

“The COVID experience has only reinforced my decision to retain the priorities I set out in November last year and we will continue to promote the importance of relationship-based care.

“We know there is further adversity to come but we will do everything we can to support you, your practice teams and your patients right across the UK.”