To analyse trends in newspaper reporting of British general practitioners’ (GPs’) pay before and after the introduction of the new General Medical Services (GMS) contract.
The introduction of the new GMS contract for GPs in 2004 linked pay to performance. There may have been a range of wider consequences from this, including changes in how GPs are portrayed in the media.
We retrospectively analysed the internet archives of five British newspapers over 2001–2008. The search terms ‘doctor’ or ‘GP’ and ‘pay’ were used in a text search. After checking the relevance of full text articles, we randomly sampled included articles to achieve a quota of up to five articles per newspaper per year. We scored article content using criteria to determine whether GPs were depicted in a positive or negative manner. Summary scores for each article were plotted using locally weighted scatterplot smoothing (LOWESS). We used a grounded approach to identify key themes.
Newspaper coverage of GPs’ salaries became unfavourable following the introduction of the new contract. Initial recognition of GPs’ demanding working conditions and relatively poor rewards for public service transformed into concerns about unfairly excessive income and poor use of public money. Although public trust in GPs has remained fairly robust to media criticism, it cannot be taken for granted as continued negative newspaper coverage of their pay may start to erode public trust in the profession.