Faking a crisis: A Royal College campaign and its mirroring in the media


John Robertson continues his chronicling of how some media have covered a Royal College’s campaign against GP services in Scotland

From the STV website on Sunday 12th June ( but not mentioned in their TV broadcasts nor those of BBC Scotland):

‘Scotland has more GPs per head of population than any other part of the UK, newly released statistics show’

John Robertson
John Robertson

Here are the actual data:

Scotland –1 GP to 1083 people.

England – 1 GP to 1338 people.

Wales – 1 GP to 1375 people.

Northern Ireland – 1 GP to 1445 people

The headline could have been:

‘Scottish GPs see 255 fewer patients than English GPs do’

The difference between the Scottish and the other ratios, above, is ‘significant’; a difference that makes a difference.

Further, this is not just a one-off phenomenon, in 2015. The Nuffield Trust (see reference below) reveals that the gap favouring Scotland has been roughly the same since 2004.


The BBC Scotland website had no mention of this on Monday 13th June. If you search the site for ‘NHS’, you immediately see ‘crisis’ headlines about the service…..in England.

Does this surprise any of you? Isn’t there a crisis in recruitment in general practice in Scotland? Haven’t the BMA and the Royal College of General Practitioners (Scottish Branch) been shouting this at us for the last year and more? Well yes, they have. Here are a few headlines going back more than a year:

‘This escalating problem [GP shortages] could impact on care.’ STV News, 13th March 2015

‘The BMA has warned that the situation threatens patient care.’ BBC Reporting Scotland, 13th March 2015

‘Top doctor blasts SNP for lack of funding as he warns of longer waits to see a GP and a future without family doctors’ Dr Miles Mack, RCGP Chair, in Daily Record, 27th January 2016

‘Do you accept there is a crisis in general practice?’ Sarah Smith to Nicola Sturgeon, BBC News, 1st May 2016

In classic propaganda style, the more it is repeated, the more it becomes true, in the minds of viewers and readers. Look at the figures for Northern Ireland, above, and consider this BBC headline on 7th June 2016, based on a BMA survey, of course:

‘GPs in Northern Ireland ‘on edge of a crisis’, survey suggests’ 


So a ratio of 1:1445 puts you on the ‘edge of a crisis’ but a ratio of 1:1083 is a full crisis? The BMA have a ‘light touch’ when it comes to research methods and statistical interpretation, as I’ve shown before, but this suggests either a lack of coordination or, worse, a failure to understand the concept of a ratio. I used to teach mathematics in primary schools. I’m sure the younger pupils might have gone for 1:14 as a better ratio than 1:11 for the supply of lollypops but most of the 11 year-olds would have understood.

UnknownNow, I know that there might still be a crisis in general practice in Scotland even though NHS Scotland is better staffed than in the rest of the UK. I doubt it though. Why? Well, because there is also evidence, already out there, though invisible to our mainstream media, that Scottish GPs are more content and less-stressed than their colleagues in the rest of the UK. Is that because they have fewer patients, I wonder? I’ve reported this already, so bear with me.

Here are the results from a 2015 international study of primary care providers, globally, from the highly-respected academic (not ‘market’) research group, the Commonwealth Fund of New York, which revealed that UK GPs to feel that they are less-stressed and more satisfied than virtually anywhere outside of the Netherlands and Scandinavia and much, much, much less/more so than the poor GPs of the USA. Further, the Scots GPs reported themselves, significantly, less stressed and more satisfied than the English sample. The data is in my previous two Newsnet reports  https://newsnet.scot/?p=116523 and https://newsnet.scot/?p=116905

In response to ‘How stressful is your job as a general practitioner/primary care physician?’ 62% of English GPs responded ‘Very stressful’ or ‘Extremely stressful’ while only 32% of Scots did. 19% of the English GPs reported ‘Extremely stressful’ while only 7% of the Scots did. With regard to satisfaction, 65% of the English GPs were’ Satisfied’ or ‘Very satisfied’ and the figure in Scotland was 80%! Now these are statistically significant differences. I don’t think we need to ‘Hunt’ for possible explanations as to why English GPs might be stressed and unhappy.

Do you think Eleanor Bradford has missed the release of this good news? Should I send her a copy? I don’t think she or anyone else at BBC Scotland is checking my tweets…