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Gold, incentives and meh

BP targets drive up falls admissions

Increasing work pressure is pushing GPs towards alcohol, drug abuse and suicidal thoughts

By Daile Pepper

GPs are turning to professional helplines in increasing numbers to deal with work-related stress and depression.

Two doctors' helplines have reported receiving around 30 more calls per month than last year.

GPs said the increase represented the dearth of occupational health services.

Many also criticised the new contract for failing to live up to its promise to give GPs greater control over their workload.

The Doctors Support Line said that this year GPs have taken over as the most prolific callers, hospital doctors having typically dominated since it opened in 2002.

It now takes around 30 calls on average per month, up from 19 on average last year. Work concerns are the most frequent reason for a call, followed closely by depression, then help with career decisions and anxiety.

Around 14 per cent of callers to the line had suicidal thoughts.

Dr Lizzie Miller, secretary of the Doctors Support Network and a GP in Fulham, west London, said the demands of the quality framework had clearly affected many GPs.

‘There is always stress with change,' she said. ‘For some practices the quality framework has been fine, but where practices have been short of

resources there has been an additional burden.'

She added that GPs continued to feel isolated compared with their hospital counterparts.

The Sick Doctors Trust said it was being contacted by five new callers every week.

Dr Alasdair Young, vice-chair of the trust, said the majority of callers had alcohol or drug problems and were increasingly worried about complaints made against them.

‘Approximately a third to a half of them are people who either are involved with the GMC or expecting to become involved with the GMC shortly,' he said.

‘People are very much more frightened of the consequences of the GMC or employers becoming aware they have got a problem.'

He said he had noticed a recent increase in doctors ringing to deal with problems with illegal recreational drugs.

Dr Andy Stewart, an occupational health co-ordinator in Cornwall, said GPs in the county had deluged the local counselling service as rising workloads and the new contract triggered anxiety.

‘At the moment it seems to be a matter of luck whether doctors have proper occupational health systems or not,' he said.

‘The fact that doctors are having to go to helplines is a sign there is a need there that is not getting met.'

GPC deputy chair Laurence Buckman insisted occupational health for GPs was adequate

in most areas but accepted workload still drove many to despair.

gp helplines

• GPs now biggest users of medical helpline

• Increased anxiety about complaints

• Work stress and depression are the biggest concerns

• Occupational health services lacking

• Doctors Support Line: 0870 765 0001,

open 6pm to 11pm and all day Sunday

• Sick Doctors Trust

0870 444 5163,

open 24 hours

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