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'GPs feel undervalued and angry'

A new poll from the BMA shows a workforce whose morale is continuing to plummet, GPC deputy chair Dr Richard Vautrey says

At a time when new promises are being made seemingly every day about funding and reforms for GP services, the BMA’s new tracker poll of GP opinion is a timely reminder both of the real picture on the ground for GPs and the challenges that lay ahead.

The BMA’s snapshot poll taken before the chancellor’s announcement of a £2bn investment in GP infrastructure paints of a picture of a workforce whose morale is continuing to plummet. Around a quarter of respondents rated their morale as ‘very low’ with a further four out of ten saying it was low.

Less than one in ten said they felt their morale was high and no one said it was very high. Looking at other doctors, GPs lag significantly behind the average in contentment compared to other members of the profession, while they have the worst feeling of work life balance.

Perhaps most tellingly, despite politicians finally showing signs in the last 12 months of understanding the problems facing GPs – in no small part down to the BMA’s Your GP Cares campaign – the actual morale of GPs has declined over the same period. This shows that headline grabbing announcements and media spin are not being translated into on the ground results.

It is obvious why we are in this situation: rising patient demand, falling resources and staff shortages are all making it impossible for GPs to do what they are trained for: treating patients.

There is a clear danger for the NHS with morale remaining this low in a key part of its workforce. If staff feel undervalued and angry, they are more likely to leave for better opportunities. Another BMA survey earlier this year showed that seven out of ten GPs were considering early retirement or leaving the profession, with a third actively planning for this decision.

These ripples of dissatisfaction also spread to the country’s medical schools and training facilities where the potential next generation of GPs are seeing first hand by speaking to their peers and undertaking their general practice placements what a difficult career option general practice has become.

This year, more than 400 GP trainee posts were left vacant, including four out every ten positions in the East Midlands. This clearly demonstrates the long term impact on patient care: fewer GPs owing to poor morale will lead to less appointments, fewer services and a level of care in decline.

The chancellor’s announcement of extra investment for GP infrastructure has the potential to start lifting spirits, not least as before the BMA’s campaigning the issue of GP premises and their poor state was not even on the political radar.

However, the text of the Autumn Statement and comments by the health secretary earlier in the week have cast doubt on whether this money will actually be spent specifically on upgrading GP premises. With the state of GP morale as it is, we cannot afford for another set of broken promises from ministers or a prolonged period of murky fudge over this promised funding injection.

As on other matters, the BMA will be pressing relentlessly for politicians of all parties to realise that raising GP morale is an important issue and that it is intrinsically linked to them addressing and then fulfilling their commitments to the GP workforce.

The GP infrastructure funding is the first test, but we must quickly get to grips with the shortage of GPs and other issues that are damaging GP services. Only through a long-term, holistic and properly funded approach can we get back to an environment where GPs are properly valued and patient services are fit for purpose.

Dr Richard Vautrey is deputy chair of the GPC

Readers' comments (9)

  • I'd say it's more fear than anger. Fear of letting your patients down, fear of litigation, fear of excessive regulation and not being able to keep up with revalidation, fear of complaints leading to the GMC, fear of going bankrupt, fear of being sold to private companies, fear that the CQC will treat you badly, fear of the press, fear of being unable to recruit new GPs, fear of falling wages and fear of rising pension costs that may never pay out. Sadly all of these are grounded in the current reality of NHS primary care. There sure is a lot to be afraid of!

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  • To anonymous 5.07 thank you for a brilliant post -you read my mind! Absolutely nailed it.

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  • @ 5.07

    I agree entirely, and it makes me very, very angry!

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  • Is it not upto GPC to come up with some ideas on how to deal with these problems that all of us are aware of. Just keeping on trotting out the problems is all the whole lot in the GPC is doing.
    We know the problems, fears, anxieties and anger. Is there something we can do about it. If not, should we continue in this vein year on year of bullying and pay cuts.
    Would Richard and the GPC think of balloting re the future direction - such as payments for appointments, resignation and forming of chambers, dentist like market values.
    My accountant, dentist,lawyer charges me £ 200 / hour. Our workloads as doctors is increasing and will continue to do so with an ageing population and increasing morbidity. there is a world wide shortage of doctors.
    Any profession would be happy if their workloads go up and up as they are paid for work done.
    That has to be, must be our approach to this problem. Our profession is secure, only we can make it work.
    I am reminded of the 80 hour weekends without sleep my colleagues and I used to do. The BMA did not sort that horror of torture. It took the EWTD to sort that.
    Similarly, we have an easy problem to sort.It is upto us to stop whingeing and do something.
    I truly, really wonder whose side these guys on GPC are, when they do absolutely nothing.

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  • I think we need a mixture of support and constructive critique of the GPC. their weakness reflects out weakness as a profession.

    The interests of salaried vs locums vs partners are so out of sink with each other that we are easy to pick off. The introduction of un regulated physician associates with no legally defined limits to their work are a game changer. If hospital trusts spend money on them they will drive down the costs and the need for foundation doctors.

    Australia and Canada have limits in terms of their needs and unless the USA starts recruiting actively we will have an over supply of young doctors with big debts. WHat happens after that is any ones guess.

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  • The amount go GP bashing that has gone on over the past year is astounding.

    Is it any wonder young doctors do not want to be GP's?
    It is it any wonder GP's are resigning ASAP.

    It is an insult re the way they have been treated, they work hard and so their best to care for patents, but after years of training, plebs in offices seem to feel they need to tell GP's how to be doctors.

    Nobody in their right mind would choose to be GP if this is the way they are to be treated.

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  • Anon @ 9.46. Not sure how the introduction of 'unregulated physician associates with no legally defined limits' will help. Surely that means that doctors carry the can for their mistakes. It will be yet another layer of nonsense that the GP will take responsibility for - more doctors and more practice nurses are needed.

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  • Tax processed foods and take-aways. It would pay all our wages whilst sparing us the soul-destroying bleat about healthy lifestyles. We could start to look after those who haven't been hell-bent on a path to self-destruction. Not much of a vote catcher though!

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  • The only thing I can do to register my protest at how we are being treated is to leave.

    The BMA have been useless.

    Unfortunately, after enough of us leave, things may improve, but I will have gone by them, my career over.

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