03 March

Our conversation with Jonathan Griffiths, GP

Dr Jonathan Griffiths is a GP in Winsford Cheshire. He works as a partner at Swanlow Surgery for 2 days per week, and spends the rest of the week in other roles. He is currently undertaking a piece of work as Primary Care Advisor for the Cheshire and Mersey Health and Care Partnership looking at how the Partnership’s plans align with those of local Primary Care Networks. He is also a board member of the NHS North West Leadership Academy, a Faculty Board member for RCGP Mersey and is about to join the Cheshire LMC. He was Clinical Chair of NHS Vale Royal CCG from 2013 until the end of 2019, and over the past several years has established himself as a blogger and speaker, active on social media. His 2016 TEDx Talk entitled ‘Choosing to be a Jack of All Trades’ has had over 19,000 views and has been widely commended by GPs in the UK and internationally. His 2018 blog post ’10 insider tips I bet you don’t know about your GP’ has had 240,000 views to date and has been shared by many GP practices throughout the country.

When did you first decide you wanted to become a doctor?
I can remember considering my career options as an O-Level school student. At the time my rationale was that I liked science, but that I also liked people and wanted a career that hit both boxes. Medicine seemed an obvious choice. I chose my A-Levels accordingly – all three sciences. The interesting thing was what happened next. It turned out that I was the first person from my comprehensive to have ever applied to do medicine. The school were supportive, but didn’t really know how to help me to maximise my chances of getting in. My predicted grades were not as high as the medical schools would have liked. I received no offers. The grades I achieved were high enough and I got in through clearing. I remember this being a very testing and stressful time, but stuck at it, and was glad that I did!

At what point in your training did General Practice feature as a future career?
I had little if no interest in General Practice as a medical student. My view was that GPs spent their time dealing with ingrowing toe-nails and athlete’s foot. I was drawn to A&E and to paediatrics. It was only when I had my placement in General Practice (not until the 4th year) that I changed my mind. For the first time I saw that being a GP was more than just about dealing with minor illness and referring everyone else on to a ‘proper doctor’. I was still not sold on the idea of being a GP, but decided that I would be happy with this as a reserve if nothing else worked out! When I started working as a junior doctor in 1994, my first job was as a House Officer in General Surgery. My team consisted of the consultant, the senior registrar and me. We worked a 1 in 5 traditional on-call – every 5th weekday on call from 8am until the following 8am, up most of the night, and then working the following day before going home. Every 5th weekend you were there from 8am Saturday with the on-call finishing 8am Monday, which you then worked until going home Monday evening. It was fairly brutal. My senior reg was 10 years ahead of me in terms of his training. This was the best rota he had ever worked. I decided at that point that hospital medicine was not for me! I made the best choice of my career, albeit for perhaps the wrong reasons. I applied for the GP Vocational Training Scheme.

What can you tell us about your first few years as a GP?
I was on the South Birmingham Vocational training Scheme, and my training practice was excellent. Northfield Health Centre in South Birmingham was busy but friendly and they trained me well. On completion of my training I moved to work as a partner in South Staffordshire, and spent 7 years there really settling in as a GP. During this time I was fortunate to be supported in qualifying as a GP Trainer, was exposed to Primary Care research through a West Midlands Primary Care research consortium and experienced my first forays into medical leadership by joining the Professional Executive Committee on the Primary Care Group, which later became the Primary Care Trust. These first few, crucial years as a GP established me in my profession. In 2005 I moved to Cheshire.

How was the move to Cheshire?
Winsford is a very different place to Bilbrook. Winsford is a town of around 30,000 people, predominately white, working class. We have areas of significant deprivation. It is not what people expect when they think of Cheshire. The practice I moved to was bigger than the one I left, and the ways of working very different. I was warmly welcomed though, and the move has led to significant career opportunities for me. When I agreed to join the practice one of the challenges already on the cards was to help turn the practice into a training practice. They had 1 qualified trainer, but the practice was not approved to train GPs. There was also a premises move in motion. The first couple of years in Cheshire saw me working hard with colleagues to gain training practice status (which we did), move into the new premises, and also eased me into working across the town as a whole with neighbouring practices. This prepared me for what was about to happen next.

So, what happened next?!
Practice Based Commissioning, closely followed by Clinical Commissioning Groups. I was already involved in town planning for health and became the practice’s representative at Practice Based Commissioning (PBC) meetings. When the PBC Chair stepped down, I put myself forward and assumed that role. When Clinical Commissioning Groups came along, I was elected Chair. I remained as Chair until the end of December 2019.

What have you learned from being a CCG Chair?
I actually blogged about this quite recently. You can read that here:https://drjongriffiths.wordpress.com/2019/11/28/what-have-i-learned/. I think the key learnings for me have been about relationships and communication, and I mean communication in its widest sense – two way, proper engagement as well as ‘broadcasting’. You can’t do anything without good relationships with the people you are working with. This is true as a doctor, and true as a clinical commissioner/manager/leader. If you work with people, and most of us do, then you need to learn this lesson quickly. I also learned the value of a good network. This doesn’t come easily to me. People who know me are usually surprised to hear that I always come up as ‘introvert’ on personality-type questionnaires. It is no surprise to me. ‘Working a room’ is hard work for me. I was delighted, therefore, to discover social media. Using Twitter for work, and writing a blog has enabled me to develop a profile and a network that has on several occasions led to ‘real world’ connections and benefits.

Can you tell us more about your blogging, and your TEDx Talk?
I started blogging when I became CCG Chair. It quickly became not only a way of communicating, but I found it a helpful way to pull my thoughts together and express what I was thinking. It’s therapeutic for me and hopefully people find value in reading it. Several of my blogs have been very specifically about General Practice. Some have looked to encourage and support GPs and have been written with a GP audience in mind. Others have been written for patients to read, providing insight into Primary Care services and how best to access them. My most popular blog post has been one providing ‘insider tips’ about your GP – over 200,000 views and still getting more hits every day. (https://drjongriffiths.wordpress.com/2018/01/30/10-insider-tips-i-bet-you-dont-know-about-your-gp/). I think blogging is a great way of getting ideas out there and raising your profile, and anyone can do it. I would encourage more GPs to take this step. The TEDx Talk came about when a friend of mine introduced me to a colleague of his who was curating the first TEDx Nantwich event. I pitched my idea, and was accepted. My talk is entitled ‘Choosing to be a Jack of All Trades’ and extols the value of the generalist. I am really proud of it, and still get requests to speak – typically at Medical School GP conferences. If I can help persuade more med students to choose General Practice as a career, then I’m very happy with that! You can watch the talk here:https://youtu.be/-BfcvI49GCw

Do you have any final messages for GPs reading this?
General Practice is struggling at the moment, but it is still a great profession, vocation and career. I am hopeful that the current changes to the contract will help to stabilise General Practice and encourage more new GPs into our surgeries. We need to stick together, encourage one another and share our stories. I would encourage people who are interested to seek out additional roles within your Primary Care Network, CCG, LMC and other local organisations. I would encourage GPs to be active on social media, to tweet and to blog, to tell their story and make sure it is heard. If anyone wants to get in touch – they can find me on Twitter @DrJonGriffiths



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