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More than a quarter of GPs work beyond safe hours every week

Exclusive More than one in four GPs work more than what is deemed safe limits on working hours every week, Pulse can reveal.

A survey of almost 1,200 GPs found that 27% were working more than 50 hours a week, with a further 13% working 45-50 hours.

The survey results, which come as Prime Minister Theresa May has said all GP practices should extend their opening from five to seven days, further showed that some 6% of GPs regularly work weeks of more than 60 hours.

It also comes as NHS England has acknowledged that GP burnout is rife, with a national mental health support service finally set to roll out later this month. Meanwhile, the RCGP launched a campaign last year to combat GP fatigue by encouraging GPs to take breaks, titled 'A rested GP is a safer GP'.

The European Working Time Directive, an EU initiative designed to prevent employers requiring their workforce to work excessively long hours with implications for health and safety, states that people should only work 48-hour weeks.

Although it does not apply to those who are self-employed, like GP partners, the directive is generally accepted as best practice for safe working.

The regulations also say employees should have 11 hours rest a day, a day off each week, a rest break and 5.6 weeks of paid leave each year.

But GPs surveyed said that they rarely if ever took breaks during the working day.

The European Working Time Directive

The European Working Time Directive, an EU initiative designed to prevent employers requiring their workforce to work excessively long hours, with implications for health and safety, states that people are only allowed to work 48-hour weeks.

Other regulations include

•    11 hours rest a day and a right to a day off each week

•    A right to a rest break if the working day is longer than six hours

•    5.6 weeks paid leave each year.

The directive has applied to consultants and career grade staff since October 1998, and to junior doctors since 2004.

GP leaders have warned that patient services ‘are at the point of breaking’ as doctors struggle to cope with demand amid rising costs, falling pay and a workforce recruitment crisis.

Many of the GPs surveyed by Pulse said that they often worked hours of unpaid overtime at weekends and evenings to tackle increasing volumes of paperwork. 

Dr Zishan Syed, a GP partner from Kent said: ‘Many organisations exploit GPs as a resource to do unpaid paperwork. This paperwork is lengthy and it takes literally hours to go through notes to fill in various forms. 

'We are also seeing up to 50 patients daily in our daily clinics and many people still expect us to conduct a home visiting service on top of this, which is impossible.

He added that he would 'not recommend anybody to seek general practice as a career'.

A GP from Lanarkshire who asked not to be named said: ‘Fifty hours a week is actually a decrease. I believe the increase in GP workload is due to two main factors - excessive and unconstrained patient demand, and dumping of work by hospitals, social work etc.'

Dr Sarah Jacques, a GP in East Sussex said that she had not had a lunch break for seven years whilst working as a GP partner at a suburban surgery in East Sussex with a list size of 'about 9,000 and increasing'.

She said: ’I worked eight sessions a week doing general practice. I started before 8am and mostly was getting home between 9 and 10pm for the last year. I was working 10-hour days and then that quickly increased to 12 hour days. I turn 40 this year and I have a 4-year-old and 6-year-old that I never see.’

GPC chair Dr Chaand Nagpaul said: ‘GPs and their staff are working to the point where many are burning themselves out or suffering from unacceptable levels of stress. We need politicians to act on their promises and deliver a period of sustained, long-term investment in general practice that allows patients to receive safe, quality care.

'The BMA has called for safe working limits for all GPs as part of its Urgent Prescription for General Practice and has put forward proposals to NHS England to enable this.’

A spokesperson for No 10 declined to comment on Pulse's survey results.

Survey question in full

How many hours a week do you actually work?

0-45: 60% (711)

46-50: 13% (159)

51-60: 21% (249)

More than 60: 6% (70)

The survey was launched on 9 November 2016, collating responses using the SurveyMonkey tool. The 29 questions covered a wide range of GP topics, to avoid selection bias on one issue. A total of 1,189 GPs answered the question above.




Related images

  • working late - burnout - stress

Readers' comments (17)

  • Introduce payment per consultation.
    This is the best answer to most of the current problems seen in General Practice

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  • According the the telegraph ( not my paper you understand ) they are advertising for new train drivers ; 4 day week for £40,000. Yes please

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  • Ive done 8 sessions since qualifying in 2 different practices and Ive never done 12 hour days. 11 on the days Im on call then doing extended hours but not on a normal working day. If something doesn't need doing that day I leave it till the next. Fortunately we get 1 admin session in the week . My colleagues often do go way over hours. I guess we have different styles. Im precious with my time, I will not visit a patient who can get to the surgery, I don't spend forever writing referral letters if there's a clinic letter in the notes that summarises the problem perfectly, I don't let the patient drone on about 5 problems, I force them to stick to task. I don't ring every patient about every test or letter unless it needs action that day otherwise they have to make an appointment. If I don't do these things I would burn out. As above said for 70K for 60 hour week are you even indemnified to work those hours?? seriously quit and locum. Life is too short

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  • I don't know how meaningful these figures are for part time GPs. I left a 5 session salaried GP post after counting up 38 hours in one week (checking results from home, working over every day and going in on my days off). In this survey my hours would look quite reasonable until you factor in getting paid only 5/8 of a salary.

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  • Is that what Brexit is all about because I've been wondering? If we're not controlled by Brussels then the EU working time directive can't be imposed on the UK. The conditions of the working time directive sound like a dream to me who works 70 hours in a good week and up to 90 hours in a bad week (you know catching up with things at night and week ends apart from direct patient consultations etc.) but I suppose that the politicians perceive me as a 'lazy' GP. I admit that I'm very weary and likely more than all the patients who see me because they are TATT.

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  • I worked ridiculously long hours throughout my career both as a junior doctor and as a GP partner. I recently unearthed the contract for my first house-job at Guy's Hospital in 1978- it was for 10 nits of 4 hours plus a further 21 units of 4 hours amounting to 124 hours per week. This included on-call. At the time I logged that I spent 114 of these hours actually on the ward or in theatre. So I had a good grounding for the 11-14 hours per day I was to later spend working as a GP in a busy inner city practice. This is not an example of how general practice was in the dark ages as I only retired 2 years ago and this pattern of work remains familiar to many GPs. Admittedly this work pattern is mirrored by some juniors working in investment banks and the legal profession. However, unlike GPs their remuneration is generally more generous with prospects of promotion to positions which are less demanding or early retirement. For some reason the NHS oppresses doctors, ensures they are enslaved to the service, taking their professionalism and goodwill for granted and blames them for the failings of the system. I can fully understand why so many GPs regret their choice of career.

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  • "Luxury! in ma day wi worked 9 days a wik and 'ad t' lick rord before wi went t'bed" etc. etc
    thankyou dr unknown, my experience mirrors yours. working a "23umt" housejob etc. was standard, and quite exhausting at times. the fact is we rarely complained because we all enjoyed it so much. the experience gained was unique, unforgetable, and sometimes emotionally draining. we were doing a job we had signed up for, EVERYBODY knew Drs worked long hours,EVERYBODY knew we weren't, paid a fortune but they still envied us, we ALL knew this when we applied for medecine and were immensly proud to be the 1/20 applicants to get a place. When we did get days off, we certainly didnt go straight to bed!

    The tone of all these Dr anonymous letters simply proves that the less hours you work, the more you start to hate yor job as it is no longer "what you do". Working now takes you away from the exciting reality of travelling, going out with friends and "familly life".ie doing "what normal people do"
    These weren't the golden years by any means, i'm not condoning slave labour but the growing mentality of institutionalised "feeling hard done by" needs to be a little tiny bit of research out of your self obsessed bubbles and discover how hard everybody else works, mostly for less. some for more (even much more). (face book is a good place to start...)
    I personally wouldnt want to swap.
    beware of the curse:-
    "may you find what you are looking for..."

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