Being a GP has made me sick
Dr Richard Try is one
of 1,000 GPs who completed Pulse's
survey on the effects of work-related stress.
Here he explains how
the pressures of the
job brought him to breaking point
While I was on my VTS, a tutor told me he thought I would be a good GP but that it would kill me. I never understood what he meant until recently, when I reached burn-out. It hasn't killed me, obviously, but it has made me acutely aware of the effect being a doctor has had on my health. Over the past few years, I have been treated for stress, depression and more recently hypertension – not good at 35!
I have been on antidepressants three times in the past, although I am not at the moment. Though they helped when I was taking them, I don't think they were the answer. The problem is the stress of being a doctor and how I cope with it.
I now work in a busy practice in Hampshire with a high level of deprivation. There are a lot of social and mental health problems, with alcohol and drug abuse common. We are frequently fully booked for weeks in advance despite trying to change the appointment system to cope with demand.
Any attempt to control our workload has been met by numerous so-called 'initiatives' designed to send more and more work into general practice. We are being dumped on by everyone from midwives to hospital consultants to Tony Blair, who doesn't seem to understand that there isn't a bottomless pit of resources in primary care. There is only us, the GPs – and everything and everyone has a breaking point.
Point of no return
My breaking point came in December last year. I had tried to be a friendly GP, thinking if I was open and approachable, I would get more respect from patients and be able to help them more. It seems I became very popular and was regularly fully booked for weeks in advance. I had worked extremely hard to keep up with the changes of nGMS and increasing patient expectations. I was working longer hours and seeing my family less and less. Finally, I simply became exhausted.
My practice has been very supportive and I was allowed to take a month off. During that time, I did an awful lot of thinking and have realised that, while I do want to be a doctor, I probably need to change the way I practise.
I get a great deal of support from my wife but I daresay it hasn't been fun for her either, especially in the two years since our son was born. I think she has found it very hard at times, which I feel guilty about.
The problem, as I see it, is the current working environment of the NHS and the constantly changing GMS contract. I don't see it getting better, only worse. I can change the way I work but that will not make me like the job any better.
So I face a choice: keep going in the hope it will improve, leave the NHS or leave the UK. I have always wanted to go back to Australia having been there for my elective. As I can't see things getting better here, maybe the time has come to emigrate.
Dr Richard Try is a GP in Gosport, Hampshire