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One in five GPs work more than 60 hours a week, finds official audit

One in five GPs are working more than 60 hours per week as the number of GPs looking to quit direct patient care is on the rise.

This is the finding of the National GP Worklife Survey, carried out by the University of Manchester on behalf of the Department of Health and Social Care.

The survey, which included 996 GPs in England, found that 20% are working 60+ hours every week - 12 hours more than is recommended by EU officials.

This comes after a Pulse survey of almost 1,200 UK GPs found found that 27% were working more than 50 hours a week, with a further 13% working 45-50 hours 18 months ago.

GP leaders said the findings are ‘incredibly worrying’ but unsurprising ‘given the intense pressures family doctors are facing’.

According to the survey, GPs work an average of 41.8 hours per week. A third work less than 40 hours per week,28% between 40-49 hours and 16% work between 50-59 hours each week.

The survey also found that:

  • The number of GPs who say they are likely to quit direct patient care within five years rose from 35% in 2015 to 39% in 2017.
  • For GPs over 50, 62% plan to quit patient care within five years, with the majority saying their departure was highly likely.
  • Nine in 10 GPs are experiencing considerable or high-pressure from ‘increasing workloads’.

RCGP chair Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard said: ‘It’s incredibly worrying to hear that so many GPs are thinking about leaving the profession within the next five years, but it certainly isn’t surprising, given the intense pressures family doctors are facing – something about which the College has long been raising concerns.

She added: ‘As this study shows, 20% of GPs are now working intensively for more than 60 hours a week.

‘We’re trying to do more and more on less and less, and there is a limit beyond which we can no longer guarantee that we are practising safely.’

Professor Stokes-Lampard added that ‘more work is needed to retain existing GPs, who are as valuable to trainees as they are to their patients, in the profession and the key to this is to tackle workload in general practice’.

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’.

Professor Kath Checkland, who led the study, said: ‘Our survey shows there has been little change in the satisfaction and stressor results between 2015 and 2017 survey, though 2015 were already at very high levels.

She added: ‘The all-time high figure of 39% of GPs who say they intend to quit within 5 years is particularly worrying in terms of the possible implications it might have on recruitment, retention and patient care.’

The news comes as Pulse revealed last week that one in six GPs were under were under so much pressure they had to stop giving consultations for 'routine' matters in the last year.

The National GP Worklife Survey is a national survey of GPs in England, which has been carried out nine times since 1999.

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.

Readers' comments (8)

  • And yet we all keep doing it. The BMA must take action to address workload.

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  • Just Your Average Joe

    Finally concede - time for a token 10 pound charge per appointment - just to try and reduce demand.

    It worked with carrier bags, so change in behaviour can be made, and with money raised finance a visiting service for the elderly.

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  • Not sure if this includes the extra work at home and ama genre responsibilities as well.

    We have reduced our appointment availability as it was getting too much with doctors leaving and new ones not joining

    We just need to see less patients and start saying no

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  • Nothing new here and I wonder how much this investigation cost! Of course the DOH were convinced that us GPs were down at the golf course every minute of the working day.
    Wasn’t that what implementation of QOF was all about? ie. to make us work more to justify our ever decreasing salary and nothing to do with improving patient care!
    I had been working 70-90 hours per week as a a single handed GP for years and the demands meant that even 168 hours weekly wouldn’t be enough to satisfy demand.
    It’s really time something was done but not just token efforts to paper over the cracks in the sinking ship HMS NHS.

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  • those 60 hrs are the fulltime GPs
    the rest are the 'part-timers' who do a 40 hour week!

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  • I am very surprised that it's only 1 in 5 GPs reporting such long working hours...( Sadly that always seemed the norm to me & my colleagues!).
    I suspect the other 4 in 5 are not including the hours of laboratory results analysis,letters to read and respond to,meetings and practice admin done which are done after the surgery doors shut.
    Add the work done whilst at home,and when supposedly 'on leave', in the form of written reports,dictation and referral letters,telephone calls and on-line practice work done via remote computer link and you'll find most GPs too busy to respond to a survey!!

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  • UtterFool

    I’m sorry for the folk doing these hours. It’s a self fulfilling proffacy, a vicious circle, a downward spiral. It leads more to leave and the ones left behind have to do more and more to stand still (more accurately to go slowly backwards). I feel for those, who for their own reasons, are still plugging away. I can’t help feeling you are propping up a rotten and broken system, facilitating and enabling its continuation. The leader of the RCGP looks on and makes soothing comments but does nothing as the profession she suposidly represents slowly dissolves before her eyes. I feel no remorse for having left. If you don’t look out for your own well-being no one else will. Allowing yourself to be parasitised within a cynical and badly lead system is not a sensible way to make a living. Unless sacrificing yourself to a society that collectively cares nothing for your welfare is your calling. It wasn’t mine. Good luck to the dwindling optimistic (trapped?) remaining few.

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  • All in the name of patient safety. You get no more funding and certainly no more staff.If you are overworked and make a mistake-you get struck off and sent to jail. All in the name of pretentious patient safety. If you do not finish your work and miss any letter and something happens, you get struck off and sent to jail too. All in the name of safety. All in all the total NHS staff numbers will be reduced. We have tons of agencies that will see to this.

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