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BMA: Threat to GP occupational health services is 'unacceptable'

The BMA has said it is ‘unacceptable’ GP occupational health services were in jeopardy, after managers confirmed to Pulse that GPs suffering mental exhaustion and stress will no longer be provided with any central funding for support unless there were formal concerns about their performance.

In a letter to the Department of Health the BMA called for specialist-led occupational health services to be provided for all NHS staff, and cited a Pulse survey that one in 11 GPs has taken time off work due to stress or burnout within the past 12 months.

The letter was sent before NHS England told Pulse the results of its review into occupational health services for GPs.

In the letter to Charlie Massey, DH director general for strategy and external relations, the BMA asked the DH to offer reassurance that all NHS staff will be able to access appropriate occupational health services going forward and that GP workload would be monitored more carefully.

The letter’s signatories Dr Paul Nicholson, the chair of the BMA’s occupational medicine committee, and GPC chair Dr Chaand Nagpaul said they were writing to the DH to ‘seek assurance that specialist-led occupational health services will be provided for all NHS staff’.

The letter read: ‘It is generally agreed that doctors face a large number of stressors, both occupational and individual; and seeking help is sometimes difficult due to complexities surrounding a doctor becoming a patient.

‘We believe that the stress caused by rising workloads and work intensity that many NHS staff are presently under is adding to the need for appropriate specialist-led occupational health services.’

‘We note a recent Pulse survey that demonstrates that one in 11 GPs has taken time of work due to stress or burnout within the past 12 months, and as many as a third expect to do so within the coming year. This echoes BMA work on this issue.’

The letter continued: ‘In spite of the many initiatives to guarantee occupational health services for all NHS staff and at a time when doctors face increased stress it is unacceptable that GP occupational health services are in jeopardy as the [DH] and NHS England review funding.’

The BMA concluded that it would ‘be happy to’ meet and discuss their concerns in the hope the DH would be able to reassure them.

The letter also cited a Pulse investigation that found almost half of GPs are at risk of burnout and concluded: ‘We do hope that you will be able to reassure us that the [DH] values the role of these services and will ensure that there is better monitoring of GP workload and more consistent access to appropriate occupational health services for all NHS staff.’


Readers' comments (6)

  • There are so many things which are "unacceptable"
    but thanks to the vote against industrial action we have no effective means of fighting these iniquities.

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  • Nonsense.As independent contractors why should you expect the taxpayer to pay for your occupational health.If you want that then become employees.Besides it's a luxury that the NHS can ill afford in these harsh economic times.

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  • Vinci Ho

    The attitude of NHSE is
    ' Why do you bloody GPs think you are more special than the others? We have already spent too much money in you guys! You only have two choices- stay well or pay for it!' Of course, agent Hunt would say they have done everything to support GPs as he is the most GP friendly health secretary for decades.....

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  • Vinci Ho

    Colleagues in BMA(as well as RCGP):
    Remember , if somebody does not pay you any respect , there is no need to treat them like normal human being anymore......

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  • "As independent contractors why should you expect the taxpayer to pay for your occupational health."

    This has been the arrangement until now and indeed thus has become the implied contract. As for it being a 'luxury', let's see how much of a luxury it is when there are extended staff absences because of no OH support and patients end up suffering.

    Your post is another reminder of why the British public deserves no goodwill and why we should stick to delivering the minimum specified within our contracts.

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  • The statistics here are in line with historical surveys across all specialties worldwide, an average of one in three physicians is suffering from burnout on any given office day. Burnout is also directly linked to lower quality care, lower patient satisfaction and higher turnover - as well as higher rates of alcohol/drug addiction and suicide.

    It is very important to realize that the health and wellbeing of your doctors is directly related to the quality and quantity of care they provide. It is refreshing to see the BMA "get it" in ways that are so rare inside for profit systems like we have here in the states.

    Unfortunately, simply designating something as "unacceptable" is woefully insufficient. And meeting with the doctors will be of little help since the burned out physician is one of the last to recognize their condition and their burnout is a sign of a lack of insight into how to change things.

    I work with burned out doctors every week in one on one coaching - 854 hours in 2013 alone. There are literally hundreds of ways to lower the stress on these providers. One key is to survey them and ask them what they would change ... and then get on it.

    So if burnout is unacceptable, is change something the BMA will devote time, energy and money to address? Otherwise we are starting to blame the victims ... just like you are seeing in the comments here ... and nothing will change.

    Dike Drummond MD
    TheHappyMD (dot) com

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