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One in eight GPs have sought help for stress in past year

Exclusive: One in eight GPs have sought help from pastoral or wellbeing services within the past year, according to a new Pulse survey which suggests the profession is struggling to cope with a rising workload and an increasing risk of burnout.

Some 12% of 441 GPs surveyed about a wide range of unrelated topics said they had sought help from local pastoral or wellbeing services in the past 12 months, with one GP spending almost £2,000 on private psychotherapy after finding it difficult to handle his workload.

The findings prompted GP leaders to urge those struggling with stress to ‘pull down their oxygen mask’ and ask for help.

Respondents to the survey blamed Government policy and changes to the GP contract as significant factors in exacerbating their difficulties. Many also said the pastoral services they had accessed had been effective at helping them cope.

The results come as the NHS in England reviews whether to continue funding these services for GPs, as part of a wider review of ‘discretionary’ funding formerly supplied by PCTs. Pulse’s Battling Burnout campaign is lobbying for much more consistent occupational health support funded by the taxpayer to be available to GPs nationwide, and today Pulse is launching the next phase of that campaign, asking GPs to write to their MP to alert them to the problem of GP burnout and its implications for the profession.

Dr Tony Grewal, medical director of Londonwide LMCs, said it was a good thing that GPs were seeking help, but warned that the high numbers reflected the extra pressure many are under.

He said: ‘If a company had one in eight people seeking help you would certainly question their human resources policies. But that won’t happen for GPs because we are independent contractors.’

‘No-one goes into general practice to become super-rich, but now GPs feel they have to run harder and harder just to stand still.’

RCGP chair Professor Clare Gerada said that GPs in difficulty should ‘pull down their oxygen mask’ and ask for help. She suggested joining a Balint Group,where GPs talk about their emotional challenges.

She said: ‘It can help to meet with your peers. It can help develop resilience in times of adversity. Workload is incredible at the moment and that can bring isolation and illness.’

One of the respondents to the survey, Cornwall-based GP Dr Paul Travis, said he had recently decided to quit general practice after spending about £1,700 on psychotherapy sessions over the last nine months.

He said: ‘It had been coming for a long time, and eventually it got to me. I took a six-week sabbatical and then came back, but it was just as bad. Things have gone too far and there is no way back.’

Another GP who asked not to be named said her experience of seeking help from wellbeing services was beneficial.

She added: ‘It was good, but hard to do. The feeling of failure was hard to deal with.’

A Pulse survey of 1,800 GPs using the validated Maslach Burnout Inventory showed in May that 46% of GPs are at high risk of burnout, a result that was covered by the national press.

Have you sought help from pastoral or wellbeing services in the past 12 months?

Yes – 55 (12%)

No – 380 (86%)

Don’t know – 6 (2%)

If yes, how was this experience?

‘Good - I saw a CBT expert’

‘Almost soul destroying actually - I feel weak and am demoralised by how we are portrayed in the press’

‘Overall, dreadful, but no worse than expected!’

‘Good but hard to do, feeling of failure was hard to deal with’

‘Excellent- but it was a private service, not related to BMA/NHS etc’

‘Poor. My employers have been unbelievably unsupportive.’

*Survey of 441 GPs run on the Pulse website in June. Respondents volunteered to take part in a survey covering a wide variety of topics and were required to complete the survey and leave their email address to be entered into a prize draw for an Amazon Kindle. If you wish to take part in forthcoming surveys then please contact

Find out how you can get involved in the next stage of Pulse’s Battling Burnout campaign and write to you MP. Click here to find out more

Please note: This article was updated with new figures that showed 46% were at a high risk of burnout, rather than 43% as previously stated.

Readers' comments (13)

  • This will not be surprising to people who work in Primary Care, like other areas of medicine we are increasingly squeezed and the relentless 55h-60h+ weeks that many are working are catching up. Unfortunately, vast section of the great british public couldn't give a toss, and have been convinced that we work a handful of hours per day. Unfortunately they will only come to learn the truth when it impacts on them - ie when doctors leave for another country or medicine altogether and we cannot train or recruit, leading to closed lists and lack of appointments.

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  • Is there any info on what type of GPs they are:part time vs full time;salaried vs partner;male vs female;recently qualified vs old timers?

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  • Now is the time we need a good robust Occupational health cover to support primary care personnel, but here in my patch since the demise of PCT where we had negotiated , and had in place a system, it's contract has not been renewed and we have no occu health, the onus now falls on the Local Medical Committees to help and support GPs, but my worry is they might be overwhelmed and the other supporting staff in primary care is left without cover uncared for ?? The levels of stress amongst staff are also on the rise.

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  • The BMA offer a free councelling service for Doctors So you are stressed? concerned? or have something bugging you? The BMA confidential counselling and doctor advisor service is on 01455 254 189 details at:

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  • Vinci Ho

    (1) the government ,alongside with NHS England , DoH and CQC , is not going to care about this . If we ( and our representatives) do not look after ourselves , nobody will . The fight to resist the secret mission of destroying general practice in this country goes on .
    (2) part of the reason why some of us are burnt out is because we care about our patients/people.(you can argue we are blowing our own horns ). When was the last time you heard a politician got burnout ?

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  • "Seven in eight GPs have not sought help for stress in past year" is such a pants headline...

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  • "Seven in eight GPs have not sought help for stress in past year" is such a pants headline...

    True - but this is probably more of a reflection on how bad we are at looking after ourselves. The fact that 1 in 8 has actually sought help is quite sobering. Although one does have to take into account it might be the same 441 of whom 51% decided to charge patients! I suppose the two could be related!

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  • 1 in 8 pilots,bus-driver, nuclear power safety experts, train drivers, garage brake technicians seek help for stress. Nice headline.

    12.5% of GPs are too sick to do their job properly. They are public servants and we will loose them. 'Public servant' always sounds like skivvy, 2nd class - may be it is time to privatise it all and then see what we get for our money.

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  • Is it chance that this is next to the report on GPs taking all responsinbility - or is it chicken & egg?

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  • Please also give some consideration the the practice managers working in primary care. Whilst I do not want to detract from how stressed GPs feel at least in most cases they have colleagues to talk to - it is their practice managers that need to keep the balls up in the air and having no idea where they are going to come down. This reorganisation has completely fragmented the NHS and when the audit commission get round to assessing the financial impact let alone the affect on those trying to deliver a service - some will have either had nervous breakdowns or gone to less stressfull occupations - we used to get job satisfaction that we were working towards delivering a good service but if we don't know what is going on, how can we ensure our patients are not harmed in this mayhem because that is what it is

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