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A counselling service for GPs is under threat because it does not have the resources to cope with a massive increase in demand for its services.

The PCT-funded service in Cornwall has run up a £28,000 deficit after being deluged with calls from GPs in the past year. GPs in the county are now being asked to pay a £100 levy to keep the service afloat.

Dr Andy Stewart, GP occupational health co-ordinator and a member of Cornwall LMC's cabinet, said one in 10 GPs in the county had accessed the service since the new contract was introduced.

Rising workload and issues related to out-of-hours working had triggered the rise.

'There's a lot of uncertainty about QOF and commissioning but the worries on the viability of out-of-hours was one reason for the increase,' he said.

'Eight Cornish GPs were referred within a few days of hearing they might have to take back out-of-hours ­ simply because of the prospect of compulsorily doing it again.'

The service had enabled those GPs to keep working during the stressful times, Dr Stewart added.

Dr Mike Peters, director of the BMA's doctors for doctors unit and a GP in London, said it was vital counselling schemes such as that in Cornwall were provided. 'All the statistics will tell you that doctors are deniers ­ they won't come forward at the right time. I want to encourage GPs to present earlier,' he said.

Dr Nev Bradley, chair of Wirral LMC, said local PCTs had ended funding for a sabbatical scheme for GPs in the area. He said: 'At this time, where we have got more demands but less support, I think it's getting dangerous'.

By Rob Finch

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