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GP burnout service to close after 25 years due to NHS funding cuts

Exclusive A ‘gold-standard’ psychological support service has had to close after almost 25 years of supporting GPs suffering with stress and burnout after NHS England withdrew its funding last year.

A bid by GPs to keep open the service in Devon in Cornwall through an ‘insurance’ style funding model over the past year has had to be abandoned this month because the service was unviable.

GPs and other practitioners currently receiving support will see their treatment courses completed, but the scheme – which has helped more than 1,500 health professionals - is no longer accepting new cases.

The closure comes despite NHS chief executive Simon Stevens’s pledge to expand specialist practitioner pastoral support services, like the London Practitioner Health Programme, in September last year.

Pulse revealed in January last year that NHS England was removing the funding for Devon and Cornwall’s Specialist Psychological Support Service (SPSS), which was described by local leaders as a ‘wilful destruction’.

The NHS England local area team said that it would be replaced with a generic needle stick and occupation health service from April 2015.

In response, local leaders initiated an insurance style scheme, which would cost GPs £150 to access mental health services. Devon Doctors – who took over operation of SPSS last year – said it hoped to be able to continue the scheme to 2017.

However, in a bulletin to local GPs on behalf of SPSS, Devon LMC medical secretary Dr Mark Sanford-Wood said that applications for the new insurance model had been ‘meagre’ and, as a result, would have to close this month. 

Dr Sanford-Wood said: ‘It is with huge sadness that I have to announce that as of 1st April 2016 the Specialist Psychological Support Service (SPSS) will cease to operate.’

‘There is now a very significant concern in my mind regarding how we will help increasingly stressed dentists and GPs in the absence of such a service. In the first instance, if anyone is feeling in need of help, then the advice is to contact your local pastoral support network who will be able to signpost you to appropriate services.’

‘For now though it falls to me to call time on 25 years of caring for the carers.’

NHS England is currently developing psychological support services to bolster the newly specified national GP occupational health service, but the GPC has warned that it may lead to other gold-standard services - such as the SPSS - being replaced by inferior services.

An NHS England spokesperson said: ‘NHS England is committed to developing a programme of follow-up services to improve GPs’ access to mental health support including combatting stress and burnout. We are working closely with others across the health service to scope this out, with a view to putting together a nationally available service by the end of the year.’

Pulse’s battle to improve psychological services for GPs


Match - stress - burnout - online

Match - stress - burnout - online

Pulse has been campaigning for mental health support to be available to all GPs through its Battling Burnout campaign.


The campaign has been credited with ’shifting the prevailing wind’ on the issue and has secured support from NHS England chair Professor Malcolm Grant ahead of Simon Stevens’s pledge last year.

But services like the SPSS are going under despite pledges of support, and research by Pulse shows that the need these services is higher than ever, with a study of 2,230 GPs revealing half were at high risk of burnout.


Readers' comments (13)

  • Ironic, just as they are most needed

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  • To paraphrase the esteemed Professor Baker- General Practise has never had such a promising future. Therefore a logical conclusion would be that such a service will not be required shortly.

    "The good times are coming,
    There gonna be here pretty soon...
    And I'm not just pitching pennies at the moon" to quote Mamma Cass.

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  • Well this is only part of the governments plan to break doctors so the NHS collapses and it all can be privitised.
    Makes perfect sense.
    Stress out and cause existing docs to leave and import lower paid Indian doctors to run the new soon to be privitised system....
    I don't see why the medical schools are not protesting more as they will be churning out graduates who are not suited to work in the UK's new health model.

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  • How much funding has been put into the scheme in London

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  • 1500 in 25 years! No wonder it closed. Tories dont do charities.

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  • Vinci Ho

    You see
    Service like this which only produced a small 'value for money' in the eyes of this government(particularly those of the Chancellor)would , without any surprise , GO. If things like sexual health, contraception , smoking cessation etc could not survive , this helping 1500 colleagues in 25 years service stands absolutely no chance .
    But what is the meaning of this ? Sorry I kept quoting Immanuel Kant on treating persons as ends NOT manipulating them as means . If you read this statement in last week the finally arrived Equality Impact Assessment from DoH on the junior doctors' contract , it clearly admitted the contract would have adverse effect on female junior colleagues , particularly single mothers: ''any indirect adverse effect on women is a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate end'' . Hence , these doctors are disposable , dispensible means as long as the law can be treated as an 'end'.
    Bottom line is all medical colleagues in NHS are just toy soldiers in the eyes of this bunch of politicians : a PM who took 5 days before admitting a hypocrisy in a scandal where a double-standard is virtually unforgiven , a Chancellor who only cares about becoming the future PM but got himself well exposed ugly when the ex-welfare secretary stabbed him right in the back so hard that his presumably well organised budget and hence grand plan had now fragmented into pieces ,and of course, a health secretary who had developed an all time worst relationship with the medical profession in this country , wanting everybody to copy the 'Chinese way of working'.
    Nigel, I totally understand where you come from when you described the two tribes : expansionist and reductionist but I am afraid it has gone beyond the argument how we can 'adapt' or ' work differently' : dealing with the devil with no virtue is a matter of war . Perhaps some may still not see the clear and present danger of this flag being burnt down.
    Even Stevens admitted that for his 'charismatic' five year plan to work , it needed so many billions . When he was given the answer,'' you must be joking!'' by his big bosses , his response was obviously compromising and hence , 'adapting'.
    As I said , try putting the mentality of either tribe into the equation of retaining and recruiting and see what you can get.
    Never fancy a grand tour inside 10 Downing Street , give me a call if we are all to Occupy Downing Street and protest outside ......
    Yes , call me angry , call me naive.......

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  • That local GPs were not prepared to pay even 1/750 of their annual income to keep the service going is a telling comment on how much local Doctors valued the service.

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  • 750X150=£112,500. You must be a GP in a wealthy healthy area. In 25th as a Cornish GP I never made that much

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  • I feel valued . It's just that the value is not very high.

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  • ‘NHS England is committed to developing a programme of follow-up services to improve GPs’ access to mental health support including combatting stress and burnout. We are working closely with others across the health service to scope this out, with a view to putting together a nationally available service by the end of the year.’
    That just about sums up the nonsense for me.

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