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Counselling plus hours cut helps stressed doctors

By Emma Wilkinson

A short term counselling programme followed by a modest cut in work hours may help reduce burnout and sick leave amongst doctors say Norwegian researchers.

More than 200 stressed doctors took part in the voluntary programme, which the researchers say may provide a way for physicians to seek help outside the healthcare system.

A total of 187 doctors attended a one-day individual counselling session and a further 40 did a week-long course. 70 of the group attended another follow-up session in the next 12 months.

One year later, the stressed doctors reported a reduction in emotional exhaustion and job stress similar to the level found in a representative sample of Norwegian doctors, the BMJ study found.

The researchers also found that the number of doctors on full time sick leave had reduced substantially in the year after counselling (35% to 6%), and that the use of psychotherapy also substantially increased from 20% to 53% in the follow-up year.

They also found that reduction in work hours after the intervention was also associated with a reduction in emotional exhaustion.

Study leader, Dr Karin Rø, a doctor at the Research Institute, Modum Bad, said given the reluctance of doctors to seek help, it was important to facilitate access to appropriate services.

'Doctors' health is important not only for the doctors themselves, their families and their co-workers, but also for patient treatment.

'I think it is important to provide early interventions that can give practising doctors help in time, before their problems interfere with care of patients and give rise to medical errors.

'It would seem that contacting a counselling intervention is easier for doctors, than seeking treatment in the health care system.'

Dr Chris Manning, an ex-GP and government advisor on mental health issues said anonymity and confidentiality were big problems for GPs with depression and related problems and the NHS was not doing enough.

'It's a very serious problem – I would guess around 15-20% of GPs are potentially as depressed as the people they deal with.

'We need a national approach but this is an area where the voluntary sector can play a big role.'

Counselling outside of a traditional NHS setting may be best for stressed GPs Counselling outside of a traditional NHS setting may be best for stressed GPs

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