Mark Porter has established himself not only as a respectable GP but also a representative for the medical profession.
He lives half his week in the peaceful Cotswolds working as a GP at his local surgery and the other in busy London filming for his media roles.
Currently he is most recognised for being the doctor on the BBC’s One Show and presenting Radio 4’s Inside Health show.
Additionally, he says, “since 2009 I have been the medical correspondent at The Times so I do a weekly column looking at public health issues in depth and it being The Times you are allowed a big spread and you can go into quite a lot of depth”.
But his career in the media began when a BBC producer rang when he was writing for GP newspapers to ask if he knew any doctors who may be interested in being on television, so being a GP he put himself forward.
When discussing his mixed career he says: “It’s a double edged sword really, some of my patients think I must be a very good doctor if I am on the BBC while others think I should stop spending time in London and spend more time at the practice looking after their hernias.”
But working in the media allows Porter to speak from a medical perspective to the public, he describes it as “doing the job for half of it and writing about it for the other half, but if you like your job you're probably going to like writing and talking about your job, so it’s a nice mix”. Clearly being involved in the media is a big part of Mark’s life, which has given him multiple opportunities.
“The main advantage for me is that I get to meet some fantastic people. As a country GP in the Cotswolds I would never get to meet key opinion leaders in medicine. I might be interviewing a professor from Harvard one minute and then the next somebody who has discovered a new drug from Italy, it’s a fantastic way for me to keep abreast of what’s happening in the world,” he says.
Discussing his role as BBC’s One Show doctor he says: “Its an odd programme in that it’s a funny mix – it’s the sort of programme that you may be talking about genetic breast cancers and then the next item will be about the demise of the red squirrel on an island of Scotland, but it’s a great medium for getting some quite serious issues out into the public domain.”
Porter says its his work on Inside Health, Radio 4's medical flagship series that he likes the best as it's “because its intimate and detailed". “One of the problems with covering health issues on television is you get very little time, you have to do something in a minute and a half, whereas radio is very in depth,” he says.
Porter has to consider his 'day job' when working within the media. “I think that you just have to remember that in the back of your mind that you represent your profession. You have to be realistic in your portrayal; you can't make yourself out to be a saint and better than everybody else; you have to reflect what it is like to work in the NHS and to give people a real expectation.”
This is especially important when negative media is surrounding the NHS on a daily basis. “Nurses and doctors and everybody else who works in the NHS have their noses to the grindstone at the moment and the last thing they need is someone sitting on the One Show with unreal expectations,” he says.
Over the last few years the NHS has faced some of its worst press to date. “The problem working for the NHS is that the good news stories rarely get covered. It’s a huge service doing a wonderful job for the majority of people but recently the headlines have been pretty demoralising. When the NHS is mentioned in the media it's normally a bad story – a hospital failed to do something.” “I think it’s a difficult environment and I think its just starting to weigh down on the shoulders of doctors and nurses and many others, I think it’s a shame because I would love to see the NHS carry on as it is forever,” he said.
Harmful media stories put the future of the NHS in jeopardy but Porter feels this isn’t the only problem; changes in the practice are also a cause for concern. “I love the NHS but it’s a service that has an uncertain future. I don’t think that in 10 years time we will have an NHS like we have now, I have never seen so much pressure on the service at the moment from my local hospitals to GP surgeries everyone is under the pressure.”
“I have been a doctor since 1986 and we are used to pressure in the NHS – its part of the job – but in the last year or two I just think people don’t look as happy, they are working very hard trying to keep too many plates spinning, I just don’t think there is any slack in the system,” he said.
The NHS is clearly trying to improve in future with the recent release of the Five Year Forward View, but it's still hard to predict a successful future in such a difficult era of the NHS. Porter says: “I don’t think the NHS will end but my worry is that it will have to radically change in some way because I don’t think as a society we can afford everything that we do now to go forward, you have to jump through hoops all the time to get procedures done.”
“The other thing that concerns me is the fragmentation of the service so things that would be provided by your local hospital are now provided by private companies. For example, the audiology department closes down because Specsavers is doing it and I think when you start the break up the NHS looses its sense of comradery,” he says.
“I would rather that GPs were buying services than some anonymous non-clinicians sitting around a table."
GPs being in charge of commissioning is also a popular subject at the moment something which Porter thinks is a good idea.
Although he insists, “it's not something that interests me personally – I don’t have anything directly to do with commissioning I just like to see patients.” His years of practice as a GP in his opinion have made him ‘cynical’ due to previous initiatives. “I am old fashioned. I would rather that GPs were buying services than some anonymous non-clinicians sitting around a table who I don’t know and probably don’t have any contact with patients.”
“I think the trouble is that in some parts of the country it works brilliantly but in others it isn’t so good and at the minute we are in very early stages, so ask me in five years. I am not convinced this is going to make a huge difference but I think it’s a step in the right direction its one of a few changes recently that I like,” he said.
One thing is for sure he is dedicated to his profession. In 2005 he was awarded an MBE for his contributions to medicine. “I had no idea, I got a letter through the post from Downing Street asking if would I accept it. I said yes and went up with my family to Buckingham Palace and was presented it by the Queen. It was an amazing day not least because I met some inspiring people who had done some remarkable things – most of them quietly, without fanfare or reward.”
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