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GPs go forth

5% of GPs have sought help from mental health service

Over 5% of GPs in England have sought help for their mental health from the GP Health Service over the past two and a half years.

The free and confidential service, which launched in January 2017, provides mental health support for any GP or GP trainee via a national self-referral phone line and website.

Since it began, 2,314 GPs have been assessed and treated through the service, according to the Practitioner Health Programme (PHP), which equates to just over 5% of the total GP workforce in England. 

Of these, 69% were fully-qualified GPs, and 31% were GP trainees.

Medical director at PHP, Dr Clare Gerada, said these figures were ‘very sad’.

She added: ‘My profession is suffering. There has to be action specifically targeted at them to stop this distress. We might need a paradign shift in how GPs work, funded and managed.’

Deputy medical director at PHP, Dr Zaid Al-Najjar, said the reasons GPs contact the service are ‘often’ related to problems within the practice, such as workload.

He said: ‘The reasons GPs contact the service are very varied but often they are related to problems within the practices they work in. For example, where other GPs have left/retired which increases the workload for those left behind.

‘We also see newly qualified GPs who present with anxiety having been used to working in a supported, relatively well protected environment as trainees but then moving into less supportive posts, for example locum work which can be isolating and present new risks which they are not used to dealing with alone.’

He added: ‘Some GPs soldier on and just about manage to continue functioning under increasing work pressures, but then experience something like a complaint or adverse event which leads to a significant deterioration in their mood – the straw that broke the camel’s back.’

The service offers tailored treatment plans for each GP, depending on individual circumstances, which can include psychotherapy, group support and therapy as well as medication.

Last month, Dr Clare Gerada and Dr Kailash Chand called for a system-wide change to prevent suicide among GPs.

It also follows a petition asking for a cap on safe working hours by GP Dr Anshumen Bhagat, after the suicide of GP Dr George Porteous from Lockerbie Medical Centre, Scotland, in September.

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Readers' comments (2)

  • Council of Despair

    Sadly, it is the tip of the iceberg.

    There will be many more suffering who haven't contacted the service.

    The bottom line is that if you are stressed and are struggling then please get help.

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  • If you are suffering please consider referring yourself.

    The service is excellent. As a GP for 17 years I had always felt I was self sufficient - should be able to cope despite the pressures and expectations we all face everyday. It wasn't until a tragic event that occurred to a patient that I realised how close to the edge I was. I lost all confidence in my clinical judgement - became hypervigilant and expectant of something serious happening again. The emotional effect on me was extreme and I was struggling to understand why this particular incident had such a profound effect on me.

    Asking for help and receiving it was liberating. The opportunity to see a GP for a prolonged appointment and follow up gave me the chance to look at the circumstances that had led to the difficulties I was facing and most importantly the chance to talk openly. Within 6 weeks I saw another clinician - a GP trained in psychological therapy who was excellent. I am now in a better place both at work and in life out of work. I have learnt a lot about myself and feel better placed to face adversity in the future.

    I feel so sad for our profession that many of us are ending up unwell due to our work. It is shocking that 1 in 20 of us are presenting with mental health problems as a result of our daily work - heaven knows how many more are suffering.

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