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The waiting game

Can GP ‘resilience’ coaches help stave off burnout?

GPs will be taught how to reduce stress, under a new NHS scheme, finds Sofia Lind

NHS England is planning to train 160 GPs to coach colleagues in resilience to help them cope with stress and burnout and managing workload.

The courses, to be run by Health Education England (HEE) and the Faculty of Medical Leadership and Management (FMLM), will teach GPs to support colleagues in improving work-life balance, recognising signs of stress and burnout, managing conflict and finding solutions to problems.

NHS England will not reveal the size of the funding for the programme, saying it is commercially sensitive, but says it forms part of the £10m, 10-point plan to improve GP recruitment and retention launched last year.

But GP leaders warn the scheme fails to address the root causes of stress, and shifts the blame onto GPs themselves.

The FMLM, a professional body established by the medical royal colleges in 2011 to improve medical leadership, will provide coaching to burnt out GPs to enable them to stay in practice. The FMLM says this will help GPs to:

  • Improve work-life balance and feel more in control at work
  • Identify solutions to work-related issues
  • Gain greater confidence in managing conflict and having difficult conversations in the workplace
  • Gain greater self-awareness of the symptoms of stress and burnout.


The invitation to GPs interested in the scheme says: ‘FMLM has been funded by NHS England to offer up to four free coaching sessions to GPs in England who are either thinking of giving up practice or have recently returned to general practice after a break.

‘Our expert coaches are experienced in coaching doctors and understand the issues GPs currently face. They are available to support GPs who feel they have reached a crossroads – or the end of the road – in general practice.’

There are few details of the element of the scheme that involves coaching GPs to help their colleagues. However, an NHS England spokesperson tells Pulse: ‘As part of our commitment to help GPs, we have commissioned a number of programmes offering GPs the chance to train as coaches and support one another in managing stress and workload. Evidence shows this approach is effective in helping GPs remain in practice.

‘So far we have commissioned 160 places on coaching courses, which will enable GPs to train as coaches and offer coaching support to colleagues across the system. FMLM is one of the organisations delivering the coaching training programme, with the others being delivered by Health Education England.’

Swindon GP and Family Doctor Association chair Dr Peter Swinyard says the FDA floated this idea to NHS England a few months ago as a way to retain older GPs to ‘help struggling GPs and practices’ rather than asking them to deal with ‘the persisting stress of front-line practice’.

Dr Swinyard says: ‘We are very positive about this and hope that it does not get mired in a sea of bureaucracy.’

But Hull GP Dr Zoe Norris, founder of support group GP Survival, says: ‘This is not the answer. It seems to put the blame for GPs struggling with workload firmly in our own laps when the truth is the exact opposite.

‘Perhaps if HEE concentrates on running a decent recruitment campaign, and addressing workload issues instead of providing a tiny number of coaches we might get further.’

The GMC last year proposed to introduce ‘emotional resilience’ into medical training, following comments by its chair Professor Terence Stephenson that doctors needed this quality in a similar way to soldiers in Afghanistan.

In a recent survey of doctors by the Royal Medical Benevolent Fund, 90% of respondents said working hours put pressure on their relationships outside work.

‘We are helping people who love being GPs’

dr jane povey3x2

The Faculty of Medical Leadership and Management has been commissioned by NHS England to offer four one-to-one coaching sessions to 50 GPs who are either thinking of giving up general practice, or have recently returned.

Many applicants say they love being a GP, but can’t see a way forward at the moment. We’re talking about enabling them to continue seeing their patients, and that involves personal leadership and resilience, and leadership within their teams.

The GPs will be able to set their own goals. Typically, a coach’s role is to anticipate, analyse and challenge patterns of thinking and support individuals to arrive at their own decisions and achieve their goal.

This is not about us trying to toughen up GPs, or blame them; it’s a well-recognised way of helping people navigate their way forward.

This could certainly be rolled out. NHS England is expecting a formal evaluation. Hopefully, this type of career development will become part of GP occupational health support.

Dr Jane Povey is a GP in Shropshire, and deputy medical director for primary care at the Faculty of Medical Leadership and Management


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Readers' comments (15)

  • Anonymous | GP Partner15 Apr 2016 1:16pm

    If you are the most resilient, try helping out people who are struggling instead of just rubbishing anything anybody is trying to do to help....

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  • re 2.38pm.well lucky them that they have the time and energy to do how is it....GPs can get 4 free sessions but the coaches are doing it for who is in charge of the rationing and what records are being kept and seen by whom and who is supervising the coaches.....

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  • Why should the coaches be doing it for free?
    If they are working then they should be paid.
    Again you know it must be a gp who is a coach as for some reason doctors are the only ones who are prepared to work for free.
    Please all doctors stop devaluing your time. The things you do for free actually cost you money for doing it. It also forces other doctors to work for free too
    Stop the self abuse, even if you want to help, you are supporting an abusive system.

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  • Like soldiers fighting a war. There you have it. If you want to be a soldier, be a GP. If not [ and I do not wish to be fighting a war all my life ], do not become one or leave.
    It is not the resilience we need to consider, but the primary job. It is a constant fight and war. Soldiers do war for a while, then get a break.
    Our war is everyday, for life, without a break. I am leaving.

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  • Why are they wasting time teaching already over-worked GPs to spend even more valuable GP time trying to coach others. Accountancy and other professional firms also use resilience coaches but they actually use professional coaches to support GPs not just increase the burden of GPs having to look after themselves, run the NHS, run their own businesses, federate etc etc. I don't know why GPs would even consider taking this on.

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