The unsung people helping millions stay in work – and why we need to acknowledge them

Business Disability Forum. Marketing photos

Angela Matthews

By Angela Matthews, Business Disability Forum

At Business Disability Forum we put a big focus on the idea of ‘Going Places’ – being able to get into work, to get on at work, and to lead a productive life. The conversations about this of kind social mobility for disabled people tend to focus on what businesses and government can do – making buildings accessible, adapting workstations or interviews, and so on – but there another critical factor that seldom discussed, and that is the GP or general practitioner.

“GPs are the bedrock of the NHS. They are the first port of call,” Matt Hancock (Health and Social Care Secretary), announced at the National Association of Primary Care’s conference in October. He was talking about on GPs’ roles in ‘preventing’ ill health, not their role in the lives of the some 26 million people in England who are ‘managing’ long-term conditions.

But GPs are also the first port of call for millions of people working with a disability or long-term condition. Put simply, without the role of the GP, many would not be able to stay in work.

I am one of those people.

GPs’ roles in the ongoing management of people’s conditions is severely under-recognised and rarely celebrated. Yet without GPs, many people would not be able to manage their conditions in a way that also enables them to work, take part in leisure or social activities, or be as independent as many of us are.

I often think that a GP’s working environment is challenging: they face poor physical building environments, ever-increasing workloads, and more demands being made on their time alongside continued budget pressures at Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) level, to name just some examples. Yet the UK is desperate to attract more people into the profession to ensure we have a primary care service fit for a more populated ageing future.

Consider that, while facing these challenges, my GP is the key professional figure that makes my life work. My GP speaks to me most months about how I am getting on with my medications and treatment. Is my current formula manageable with what I am currently needing to do at work? We can change it. How does this medication work if the first part of your day is sat on a train commuting into the city? We can tweak it. How easy was it to get your medical supplies this month? And so on.

When my hospital team need to change something in my treatment, they write to my GP requesting him to make the changes on my prescription. I log onto my patient app and I can see it has been done within a few days. I no longer go into the surgery just to request my medication. Neither do I send an email, or make a phone call. I request this through the app; I send any comments to my GP via this app, and it also allows me to see when my GP has sent my prescription to the pharmacy, which always happens within just a few days. I get off the train from work in the evening, collect my car, and go to the pharmacy which is open until 10pm to collect my supplies. It is a perfect example of how the future is in finding that intelligent ‘sweet spot’ between humanity and technology.

Before this, I had to work reduced hours for a week each month while convincing my previous GP what I needed, checking the pharmacy could get what had been prescribed, and facilitating communication between surgery receptionists and the pharmacy about the complexity of my prescription requirements. I am not alone; I hear of many people who do not work or have to reduce their hours because they literally ‘don t have time’ to have a job while managing their medical condition.

As per the Government’s Work and Health Strategy, the primary healthcare setting is absolutely pivotal for retaining and increasing the employment of people who can work but need to manage complex and fluctuating medical conditions every day of their lives.

A switched on, understanding GP can be everything for sustaining the social and economic contribution of the tens of millions of individuals managing their work and personal lives with long-term medical conditions today.

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