General practice: essential facts

By Richard Jones and Scott Menzies Radcliffe 116 pages£17.95

We may be a little weary of being told how much general practice will change over the next few years, but the fact remains that we are moving into uncharted waters at speed.

One prediction that can be made, however, is that there will be an increasing reliance on hard information about what we in the health service actually do. This is where General Practice: essential facts comes in.

Whatever your views on the direction of general practice, it is impossible to plan or make sensible decisions without a clear knowledge of where we are now.

As in most fields, there is a danger of information overload unless a huge amount of detailed sifting and critical appraisal is done. We are lucky that Jones and Menzies have done so much high-quality work for us. If, like most of us in general practice, you find it hard to grasp the whole picture of a complex health system and are unsure how our own part relates to the whole, then this is vital reading.

The authors have tried in two ways to avoid a series of lists. First, the information is grouped in sensible ways which relate well to one another.

'The work' and 'The health team', for example, are useful headings which also set the current situation in a historical context. This works well.

Second, there are discussion points at the end of each chapter. This is especially valuable for training purposes, even if occasionally the questions do seem rather contrived.

However, some fundamental and thought-provoking issues are also raised - such as the amount of time spent in general practice as undergraduates.

The authors deal with political issues such as fundholding and the 1990 GP contract carefully and well. They present the facts with an honest assessment of the results, without succumbing to the temptation to lecture the reader on the rights and wrongs.

The graphs and tables can be difficult to follow clearly, although, to be fair, they are often dealing with complex data which is not easily illustrated.

All the information is there; information is power and anyone with an interest in the future of general practice would be well advised to keep this book to hand.

Tim Harlow, GP, College Surgery, Cullompton, Devon.