Posted on 19 January 2023
The study - by the University of York and funded by the National Institute for Health and Care Research - examined nearly 100,000 social media posts by NHS GPs to identify matters that were important to them during the first year of the pandemic. This enabled trends in the social commentaries of GPs to be analysed, showing pressures varied over the course of the pandemic.
Online discussions at the start of the pandemic centred around lack of personal protective equipment (PPE) and testing, leading to anxiety about their own safety and the safety of their families. Some GPs felt that they were viewed as lower priority compared with hospital staff.
GPs described a ‘tsunami’ in workload and lack of resources, leaving many feeling ‘fatigued’ or ‘exhausted.’ GPs were fearful about patients’ unmet health care needs and ‘heartbroken’ by patient deaths and social isolation during the pandemic.
Sentiments moved on to expressions of low morale and feeling undervalued later (September – October 2020), exacerbated by a perceived lack of support from the government, media and the general public – referred to by many as ‘GP bashing’. Perceptions that GP practices were ‘closed’ and some cases of abuse from patients caused sadness amongst GPs who described working harder than ever.
GPs felt positive about some changes that were necessitated by the pandemic – particularly the investment in IT infrastructure. And they commented on the overwhelming sense of satisfaction and hope brought about through the vaccination programme, although it also increased their workload further.
Dr Su Golder from the Department of Health Sciences said: “GPs were concerned about some aspects of remote consultations – particularly about possible missed diagnoses, widening health inequalities and the increased time and staff fatigue associated with remote consultations.
Dr Laura Jefferson, also from the Department of Health Sciences, added: “They felt job satisfaction, team working and access to much-needed emotional support, were all reduced by remote working.
“Problems contacting patients were common and working from home brought about additional challenges, especially for those with children.”
Social media analysis provides a useful way of exploring experiences and perceptions in real time, without needing to burden busy health professionals with surveys or interviews.
The study concluded that perceived workload pressures, unsafe working practices, lack of support and unfavourable media commentaries during this time were detrimental to GPs’ wellbeing and this could affect GP retention and future patient care.