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Four in 10 GPs taking time off for burnout

Exclusive Four in 10 GPs have taken or expect to take time off because of burnout as a result of increasing workloads and intense scrutiny, a Pulse survey has revealed.

The Pulse survey of 602 GPs found that 12% had taken time off in the past 12 months, while 29% thought they would probably need to in the next 12 months.

It is also revealed that 45% said that staff members in their practice had taken time off in the past 12 months.

Respondents said that heavy workloads and intense scrutiny from regulators and the media were to blame for the onset of burnout.  

Commenting on the results, the GPC said workload was leading to a self-perpetuating cycle, in which GPs suffering from burnout are forced to take time off, passing the burden on to other GPs.

Following a Pulse campaign, NHS England agreed in May to fund ‘high quality’ occupational services for all GPs in England, having initially only agreed to fund services for GPs ‘where there are concerns about performance’.

However, it has not released details about the scheme, which are expected shortly.

A similar survey last year revealed that 9% of GPs had taken time off as a result of stress.

These figures mirror recent findings from the BMA tracker survey, which shows that GP morale is declining even further than last year, with three-quarters of GPs reporting unmanageable or unsustainable workloads.

Dr Raj Thakkar, a GP and clinical commissioning director at NHS Chiltern CCG, said practice colleagues had to take time off because of stress.

He said: ‘Medicine is highly oppressive, with CQC, scrutiny in the newspapers, unrealistic expectations and other agencies putting hard-working doctors under the microscope. All this is on top of working a lot more for a lot less. Is there any wonder there is a recruitment crisis?’

Dr Zishan Syed, a locum GP, said: ‘GPs are subject to terrible pressure and expectations on a workforce that is frankly exhausted.

‘A huge source of stress for doctors is fear of litigation and investigations from their local authorities or other regulatory authorities such as the GMC, sometimes simultaneously.

‘It seems sometimes that such investigations have already established a verdict of the doctor being guilty before hearing his/her perspective. Indemnity organisations continue to ask for huge sums of money, but some doctors have been dropped at the most critical points of their cases by their indemnity organisations, to whom they have been faithfully paying indemnity fees.’

GPC chair Dr Chaand Nagpaul said: ‘These are extremely worrying figures that mirror the base reality of GPs up and down the UK. Even more concerning is the ripple effect of those doctors who take time off due to sickness on an already overstretched GP workforce, resulting in greater stress on those GPs remaining. We need to ensure that we take measures right from government through to local commissioning policies that manage the pressures on GP workload.’

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Readers' comments (43)

  • Una.what are 'affordable rates'?.who sets them?

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  • Una Coales. Retired NHS GP.

    @4:27 pm...same as affordable commercial rates for plumbers, electricians, dentists, counsellors, hair stylists, tax accountants, real estate agents, lawyers, and certainly cheaper than private hospital consultants.

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  • Thank you for all your responses. After doing 15 hours today in hospital as a junior makes GP land a very nice proposition. Yes pay is sacrificed but there is control over where I work, what days I work, and quick progression.
    With private practice I don't know how much the extra cash can really improve your life? Isn't there much of a market for private GP work?
    On the negative you will have to live with the day to day job of course. I've heard a lot of GPs say not to do it, including my own GP.

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  • I am a GP partner and trainer and have left . Thank goodness I'm out of it

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  • Best thing I did . Took 1 month off and was 24 hr a day with a wife I loved over 35 years but never spent so much time as work demanded more than a working week

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  • Gosh! I shall I'll send my future wife an avid email of warning. maybe in the future I can download my consciousness into a computer so i spend time at home. Or send it to work...hmmm.

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  • GP trainer and partner 20 years - just left as has destroyed me and my family

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  • Just adding my voice. 50 years old, a GP for almost half my life, always seen myself as a doctor first and prided myself on being able to maintain a work-life balance while being prepared to stretch the boundaries of duty for my patients. I've never had any mental health problems - I've never had any time off sick at all except for a few weeks when I was needed to look after one of my parents. Until a couple of years ago, I was insistent that I couldn't imagine ever wanting to retire from general practice.

    And I'm now having to get my head round the fact that I've got a severe dose of burnout, with a full house on the questionnaire on the BMA website and a high PHQ-9 score for depression.

    It's a relief to have a unifying explanation for the physical and cognitive symptoms, the inability to "pull myself together" and do everything that's required of me at work, and the nagging and completely unfair belief that I'm worthless and my family only value me as a breadwinner.

    I'm hoping that the penny has dropped in time for me to resolve the situation, take time out to recover (but then I worry about my partners - they're good, dedicated doctors and at least one of them is also close to the brink, and locums are thin on the ground in this corner of the country) and find that the profession for which I used to be full of enthusiasm is still there.

    I never thought it would happen to me. I suppose nobody ever does think it will happen to them.

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  • Have worked with GPS 25 years burnout now 1 in 10 treatment works but is not available as it is outsourced not individualised NHS England are axing service for GPS in South West despite the fact it will cost them to do so in favour of outsourcing to so called qualified providers to meet political dogma not HEALTH CARE

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  • I've been a partner for 20years, and an F2 trainer. Crashed and burned 3 years ago, had six months off then returned on only four sessions a week. I'd never had time off before, but that was the only way I could return. Would I take early retirement- hell yes, but recent letter from NHS pensions says I need to work to 67, doing this job? Would I miss my patients and colleagues- dreadfully. Does this make me a co-dependant propping up a failing system to feel good about myself? And is that what the "Powers that Be" are relying on?

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