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At the heart of general practice since 1960

Burnout neglect is a silent scandal

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Managers should hang their heads in shame. After promising they would act to protect vulnerable GPs, they have done the exact opposite.

NHS England told Pulse a year ago that it would commission a ‘high-quality’ occupational health service for all GPs, after we campaigned for months to highlight the issue of GP burnout. This service has yet to materialise.

Instead, gold-standard support services have had their funding cut, while those that haven’t are struggling to meet growing demand.

It is a silent scandal that occupational health support for struggling GPs is being reduced instead of expanded. And we reveal today that the problem is getting worse. Half of GPs are at risk of burnout according to our survey of more than 2,200 GPs. This is an increase of four percentage points on two years ago. A quarter feel a severe lack of personal accomplishment and three-quarters have high levels of emotional exhaustion.

These figures starkly illustrate the results of NHS England’s neglect. And behind the numbers are many sad stories of GPs reaching the edge and then realising how little support there is.

As well as the effect on the individual, collateral damage is caused to GP partners, family members, colleagues and patients. All the time, I hear stories of GPs struggling to cope because a partner is off work due to stress. It is causing valuable, experienced GPs to reduce their hours or leave the profession altogether. It weakens practices and I have even heard stories of exhausted GPs handing their keys back to the NHS and ditching their contract to protect their health.

Patient safety is potentially at risk if GPs are working with high levels of exhaustion or depersonalisation. How can GPs take on more complex care in the community if they are unable to cope with their workload now?

My predecessor at Pulse likened providing occupational health support for GPs to the duty of care the country owes to its war veterans, but I would go further. It speaks to the heart of the values the NHS holds dear. If it cannot look after its own, then what kind of message does that send out?

Even the GMC has recognised the intense pressure on GPs. In last month’s Pulse, its new chair called for a confidential advisory service to be rolled out for GPs. So where is it?

I will be writing to NHS England managers to remind them of their commitment to provide this, and make them aware that the situation continues to get worse.

But of course, it is also important to address the causes of burnout as well as the symptoms. Health secretary Jeremy Hunt recently said he recognised that many GPs feel like they are on a ‘hamster wheel’. But are his words empathetic – or just empty?

The ‘new deal’ he has promised for GPs must tackle the pressure on the profession meaningfully and head on. Because this is the only way the Government is going to recruit the 5,000 new GPs it has promised and ensure general practice survives. The NHS only has a future if general practice becomes a more attractive, less onerous place to work.

Everything else is secondary.

Nigel Praities is editor of Pulse

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Readers' comments (19)

  • Nigel

    It would be great if you could sort out the BMA!

    I know it might be akin to 'sorting out FIFA' and no small task but if you were to run for leadership and there was a complete clear out of the dead wood...

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  • "Managers should hang their heads in shame." What a appalling lazy title and slur on a large group of people.

    Perhaps Editors should hang their head in shame for the Daily Mail?

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  • Vinci Ho

    4th of June , I would dedicate this song to those who continue to suffer in silence and of course those lost their lives in Tiananmen Square in 1989 on this day;

    "The Sound Of Silence"

    Hello darkness, my old friend,
    I've come to talk with you again,
    Because a vision softly creeping,
    Left its seeds while I was sleeping,
    And the vision that was planted in my brain
    Still remains
    Within the sound of silence.

    In restless dreams I walked alone
    Narrow streets of cobblestone,
    'Neath the halo of a street lamp,
    I turned my collar to the cold and damp
    When my eyes were stabbed by the flash of a neon light
    That split the night
    And touched the sound of silence.

    And in the naked light I saw
    Ten thousand people, maybe more.
    People talking without speaking,
    People hearing without listening,
    People writing songs that voices never share
    And no one dared
    Disturb the sound of silence.

    "Fools," said I, "You do not know –
    Silence like a cancer grows.
    Hear my words that I might teach you.
    Take my arms that I might reach you."
    But my words like silent raindrops fell
    And echoed in the wells of silence

    And the people bowed and prayed
    To the neon god they made.
    And the sign flashed out its warning
    In the words that it was forming.
    And the sign said, The words of the prophets are written on the subway walls
    And tenement halls
    And whispered in the sound of silence.

    We need to listen and speak out for them......

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  • Vinci Ho

    Agent *unt
    You should be so f**king ashamed of yourself.....

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  • Vinci Ho

    There is a good chance that a high proportion of those at the top, our political masters are psychopaths and narcissists. In which case if we are in the case of the Health Sec, our very own Jeremy has about as much empathy as a swinging brick. In which case he won't give a flying f*** or be ashamed of himself. My guess is Cameron gave him the job to keep him out of the way and he'll keep it when things go boom.

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  • Ultimately politicians are jealous they are not GPs or doctors in fact. So their plan as the puppet master is to shaft the profession, its workforce - both primary and secondary - and the sick and ailing. Tragic.

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  • Legal class action for criminal damages for willful damage to doctors' physical and mental health and well being ...needs to be brought by doctors....as BMA has shown itself impotent.
    Common law process mandatory- ABH or GBH?Crime, perpetrators and victims not in dispute as fully evidenced.
    What's the name of that legal chum again?
    The American Indians used to remove the psychopaths from their tribes for the greater good- definitive Darwinian selection.

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  • We are being psychologically abused by psychopathic snakes in suits, some of whom are doctors who have gone over to the dark side.

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  • Una Coales

    I vote for Nigel Praities to be our Chair of the BMA GPC! He has shown more empathy and constructive strategies than our own colleagues at the helm.

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  • Yes- well done Nigel for raising this appalling neglect of among the most dedicated and abused workforces in the country. Thank you for your editorial voice speaking out on behalf of us all.

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