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Stress leaves 'one in four' GPs unable to cope 'once a week'

One in four GPs in the UK's devolved nations are so stressed that they feel unable to cope at least once a week, the RCGP has found.

RCGP surveys of nearly 500 GPs across Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland saw 26% of GPs reporting that they experienced the feeling at least once a week.

The RCGP said this is the result of rising demand on GPs and longer hours worked to deal with a larger workload.

The college said it hoped the data would raise awareness about the impact of rising workloads on GPs' mental health.

The situation is worst in Wales, where one in three GPs said they felt unable to cope at least once a week, followed by Northern Ireland with one in four, and Scotland with one in five. But nearly half of Scottish GPs did report feeling this way at least once or twice each month.

RCGP Wales chair Dr Rebecca Payne said: 'We need more GPs in Wales and more funding for members of the multidisciplinary team to join them.

'Ultimately, until general practice is properly resourced, rising workloads mean stress is likely to remain high.'

RCGP Northern Ireland chair Dr Grainne Doran said the findings were ‘very concerning’, adding that GPs 'must do all we can to protect our wellbeing'.

She said: 'GPs in Northern Ireland can get access to an occupational health service and I hope that those who need access to it feel able to do so. There is no stigma in seeking help.'

RCGP Scotland chair Dr Carey Lunan, said the findings were 'very worrying'.

She added: 'GPs working in daytime services have told me that they are now routinely working 12-13 hour days without taking time for breaks. It is clear from these findings that this pressure is taking its predictable toll on Scotland’s family doctors. That can only have negative knock-on effects for how able GPs are to provide for the health of our patients.'

Dr Alan McDevitt, BMA Scotland's GP Committee chair, said he hoped that the new GP contract for Scotland, which came into effect last month, would improve the situation for Scottish GPs.

He said the contract 'will see a range of additional health professionals recruited over the next three years to relieve some of the workload that GPs are struggling with'.

‘It will also help to address the recruitment and retention challenges general practice faces by reducing business risk and removing some of the barriers that put doctors off careers as GPs,' he added.

Highland LMC secretary Dr Iain Kennedy, a BMA Council member and a GP in Inverness, said: 'I’m not at all surprised by the figures and I don’t think many GPs in Scotland will be.

‘Most GPs will report that they have had a huge increase in the volume of work over the last few years, an increase in complexities within their appointments and also a rise in expectations from patients. We’re also getting a lot more work shifted onto us from hospitals.’

According to Dr Kennedy, the workload in his own practice has improved over the past two years after the partners decided to hire a pharmacist and additional nurse practitioners.

He said all the partners at his practice are ‘in a better place now’ and have even been able to meet for lunch every day.

In response to the results, the RCGP has launched follow-up surveys  across Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. It hopes to explore the link between workload and wellbeing and find possible solutions to the pressures GPs are under.

The news comes as a Pulse survey last year revealed that around one in nine GPs turned to alcohol because of work pressures, while 6% said they had turned to prescription drugs.

Meanwhile, GMC has implemented measures to reduce GP suicides in connection with fitness-to-practise investigations. Earlier this week, it reported that it has halted seven fitness-to-practise investigations in order to spare doctors' mental health to date.

And, last week, a mental health charity suggested doctors should get two mental health days a year to stop stress from escalating into a long-term issue.

Data in full

Scotland

46 of the 208 (22%) respondents said they are so stressed they feel they cannot cope at least once a week

102 of the 208 (49%) respondents said they are so stressed they feel they cannot cope at least once or twice a month

Wales

50 of the 156 (33%) respondents said they are so stressed they feel they cannot cope at least once a week

Northern Ireland

27 of the 104 (26%) respondents said they are so stressed they feel they cannot cope at least once a week

Average

123 of the 468 (26%) respondents across Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland said they are so stressed they feel they cannot cope at least once a week

Source: RCGP survey of 468 GPs across the UK's devolved nations

Readers' comments (4)

  • "75% of GPs absolutely fine" scream the headlines!!
    (F.I.N.E. stands for: #ucked up, Insecure, Neurotic and Emotional)

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  • “RCGP Northern Ireland chair Dr Grainne Doran said the findings were ‘very concerning’, adding that GPs 'must do all we can to protect our wellbeing'.”

    Thanks Grainne. Really helpful. Something else we ‘must’ do. Sounds a lot like GPs ideally placed.

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  • So will the RCGP call for the suspension of Appraisal and Revalidation, a major cause off stress in GPs?

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  • As long as the job is being done no one gives a monkeys who’s being burnt out.

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