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GPs say contract has sent stress levels spiralling

The GMS contract has sent stress levels spiralling with half of GPs believing it has ratcheted up the pressure upon them, Pulse's survey of GPs' health reveals.

Principals are feeling the effects most acutely with 61 per cent saying the contract has increased their levels of stress, compared with 33 per cent of salaried GPs.

In total 54 per cent of almost 1,000 GPs surveyed about their personal health and work-related stress said the contract had made stress worse. Forty per cent reported no change, and just 6 per cent said stress had been reduced.

Half of GPs said work-related stress was affecting their relationships at home. And as many as a quarter reported suffering depression in the past month.

Dr Laurence Buckman, GPC deputy chairman, said: 'The new contract was intended to reduce stress but it clearly hasn't done so. The stress of our jobs gets harder and harder.'

Dr Margaret Cupples, a senior lecturer in general practice at Queen's University Belfast, blamed the burgeoning stress on the extra data collection required by the new contract.

'The contract is asking for routine data collection that can sometimes seem irrelevant to patients,' she said. 'All the time extra demands are added without any being taken away.'

Dr Cupples added that it was no surprise that almost two-third of principals were finding new GMS stressful: 'It is the principal that carries the responsibility for the data return – for the accumulation of finance within the practice.'

Diane Whalley, research fellow with the National Primary Care Research and Development Centre, said the results

reflected what she found in 2004 when she asked GPs what they expected from the new contract. 'The overwhelming

majority thought their clinical and administrative workloads would be increased. Most thought their professional autonomy would be reduced.'

Dr Richard Try, a GP in Hampshire, is in no doubt that the contract contributed to his stress-related depression. His breaking point came last December when he had to take a month's leave.

'I had worked extremely hard to keep up with the changes of nGMS and increasing patient expectations,' he said. 'I was working longer hours and seeing my family less and less. Finally, I simply became exhausted.'

The survey also found that older GPs had found the changed contract especially stressful; 58 per cent of those over 40 said it had increased stress compared with 41 per cent of those under 40.

Dr Cupples said younger GPs with better IT skills had found it easier to adapt.

'GPs who were trained some years ago would find it less easy to fit the requirements of today's administration and computer skills into their daily routine,' she said.

However, despite the impact of the new contract, stress in GPs' overall lives has actually decreased since the last time Pulse surveyed GPs' health,

seven years ago. Some 61 per cent now say they 'sometimes suffer' from stress, compared with 75 per cent then.

Dr Peter Davis, a GP in Leamington Spa, said: 'We've had a lot of stress removed because we don't do out of hours – but the new contract has brought a lot of new stress.'

• Read Dr Try's story on page 23

• More results from Pulse GPs' Health Survey, pages 12-13

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