I had an idea in 2013 that despite advances in technological communication and despite the relatively small geographical size of our country, Irish GPs as a group were very poorly networked in any formal or informal way. I had no agenda other than achieving this connectivity, an attempt to create a relatively safe space for GPs to talk together. With that in mind Dr. Gavin Maguire and myself set about the leg work involved in finding and populating this club with working active GPs. It involved getting the emails, verifying phone calls and then promoting through word of mouth.
The initial format was a group-emailing list via Groupspaces. It went live on 14th of February 2013 and built up slowly so that in 2016 it had a membership of approximately 500 members. Over that period as more members joined the more successful it became and resulted in heavy email traffic and inbox chaos (Sometimes over 100 posts per day)! It became obvious that another solution must be found. Also, at that time, Groupspaces as a company withdrew technical support suggesting this format of an emailing mailing list was destined to wither on the vine. Around this point the ever innovative Dr. Sean Higgins along with his development team had an idea to modernize the way this forum could be operated and improved by developing and migrating members to a smart phone app which evolved further to include a browser based app which is where we are now. 4 weeks post launch of this new service the forum membership doubled to over 1000. Much of this phenomenal growth is a tribute to Dr. Higgins and his team but it also highlights a real need to connect between GPs working in practice who at times feel quite isolated. A recent Gorilla Survey of forum members confirmed an overwhelming preference for the new platform compared to the older email based offering.
The National GP forum has created a safe space for GPs to come together, to share ideas and experiences. It is random, it is freewheeling, by parts inspiring and sometimes infuriating. It is a collegial concourse cafe where GPs can shoot the breeze where no topic is too silly or too serious. I like to think it’s like Greenwich Village in the early 1960s before Dylan went electric. Younger doctors can tap and access the experiences and knowledge of older GPs, while older GPs can become reborn through the enthusiasm and modern thinking of younger GPs. Many academic and practical clinical content cases are discussed but much more than that. It is often strongly political in terms of endeavoring to fight for the future of general practice. It can sometimes ignite unionized partisanship, cause brief spats but equanimity is always quickly restored. It is often intensely personal where pain, grief and hardship can be and is shared. There is prose, advice on the financial markets and there is poetry. There are book lovers and there are music lovers.
Historically we have attempted to allow the forum breathe naturally by minimizing moderation and allowing the membership to self moderate by asking members to respect each other and the law. By and large this is successful and allows debate to flow naturally. We are in our infancy and I hope we continue to grow through adolescence to full maturity!
The National GP Forum can be accessed and downloaded at www.nationalgpforum.com
Dr. Joe Gallagher
GP Principal – Kells, Co. Meath