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GPs have never been happier, research has concluded.

In an unprecedented outbreak of contentment, 46 per cent of a cohort 250 GPs surveyed every two years by Norwich Union reported high job satisfaction ­ up from 32 per cent in April 2003.

Only 14 per cent reported low job satisfaction.

GPs in Northern Ireland were happiest, with 67 per cent registering high satisfaction. The figure compared with less than a quarter of Midlands GPs.

One reason for the happiness is a cut in working hours. The GPs reported working an average of 46 hours per week, down from 50 two years ago.

One in five GPs said they planned to cut their working hours in the next six months with the average cut totalling 15 hours.

Dr Laurence Buckman, GPC deputy chair, admitted it was 'unusual' for GPs to report such high levels of satisfaction. He said he hoped it was as a result of the new contract. 'I'm not in the happiness bus-iness but if someone is happy as a result of my work that's good.'

The flipside of the Health of the Nation survey was that GPs have never been more worried about the health of their patients.

More than 80 per cent said higher numbers of patients were presenting with obesity, 79 per cent noted a rise in patients with diabetes, 76 per cent for stress and 64 per cent for depression.

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