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Gold, incentives and meh

Burnout forces almost 10% of GPs to take time off work as pressure on occupational health services grows

Exclusive One in 11 GPs has taken time off 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, according to a Pulse survey that lays bare for the first time the impact of GP burnout on the wider NHS.

It comes as the Practitioner Health Programme, the largest service in Europe for doctors with health concerns, revealed the number of new doctors and dentists seeking help has more than tripled in the past four years.

Asked whether stress or burnout was affecting their ability to work, some 9.3% of the 688 GP respondents to Pulse’s mutli-topic survey said they had had to take time off within the past 12 months. A further 32.5% said they had not taken time off but thought it was likely that they might need to in the coming year. The remaining 58.2% said they had not had to take time off work and did not expect to.

The findings comes as part of Pulse’s Battling Burnout campaign, which aims to raise awareness of the problem and lobby for better monitoring of GP workload and better occupational health support for those who need it. A separate Pulse assessment earlier in the year of almost 1,800 GPs using the validated Maslach Burnout Inventory tool found that 43% are classified as being at a very high risk of developing burnout, with partners and those working in deprived areas particularly badly hit. 

Professor Clare Gerada, the immediate past chair of the RCGP and new medical director of NHS London’s Practitioner Health Programme (PHP), said the programme was now supporting between nine and 11 new doctors or dentists each week, compared with around three new practitioners a week four years ago.

Professor Gerada told Pulse: ‘The two groups we have most contact with are GPs and A&E doctors. The increase is partly because more people know about us, but there is certainly an increase in illness levels as well. The word burnout is used to describe this but I don’t like the term, because it’s actually depression given a more acceptable label.’

She said a number of factors were to blame for doctors’ plummeting morale over the past year.

‘Change always produces anxiety, but we are also seeing the denigration of NHS staff in the media, where we are being blamed even though most of us are trying to do a good job,’ she said. ‘It feels like GPs are seen as both scapegoats and messiahs. People want us to save the NHS through commissioning, but they also blame us for the problems.

‘My message would be to hang in there, because things can only get better.’

Today’s findings follow a GPC survey published in September, in which a huge majority of GPs reported they were battling excessive bureaucracy, facing a shortage of resources and suffering from low morale. Some 94% of GPs said they had experienced an increased workload since the imposition of the 2013 GP contract in April.

GPC deputy chair Dr Richard Vautrey said that the 40% reduction in QOF points agreed for the 2014 GP contract was a ‘step in the right direction’ in reducing GPs’ stress levels, but added: ‘Nobody should be under the misapprehension that this will make a major difference. Most of all we need additional resources so that we can take on more GPs and nurses to meet the patient demand.’

Survey findings in full

Have you had to take any time off work for stress or burnout within the past 12 months?

Total number of respondents: 688 GPs

No, and I do not expect to: 400 (58.2%)

No, but I think it is likely I may need to in the next 12 months: 224 (32.5%)

Yes: 64 (9.3%)

About the survey

Pulse launched this survey of readers on 15 October, collating responses using the SurveyMonkey tool. The 26 questions asked covered a wide range of GP topics, to avoid selection bias on any one issue. The survey was advertised to readers via our website and email newsletters, with a prize draw for a Samsung Tab 2 tablet as an incentive to complete the survey.

As part of the survey, respondents were asked to specify their job title. A small number of non-GPs were screened out to analyse the results for this question. GPs were also asked on a voluntary basis to provide their GMC number and the majority did so, although these were not verified or used to screen out respondents.




Readers' comments (38)

  • I'm afraid i have no sympathy for you lot.You claim that you're overworked and burnt out but it doesn't seem to show in the quality of your referrals.As a hospital physician i see daily evidence of your intellectual laziness.Alot of you can't even be bothered to take a basic history and arrange some elementary investigations.A common complaint i hear from patients in A/E is that either they couldn't get through to their GP or were told to just head off to A/E.Are you guys paid per number of patients you bounce off to us?Since the 2004 contract alot of the GP partners have simply been taking the taxpayer for a ride.You have relinquished your duty to properly care for your patients.Most of the GP workload at my GP surgery and many others in the area is shouldered by the salaried docs and no partner does more than 2-4 sessions/week.So when the government asks you to do a proper day's work you all go screaming burnout!

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  • Anon at 10.51
    ..a little unfair.

    This is not really the place to vent your frustration at your spouse's inability to secure a GP partnership.

    Furthermore in these testing times the last thing the medical profession needs is numptys like you attempting to pitch doctors one against another.Why not come off your high horse and show a little dignity and consideration to your fellow colleagues rather than engaging in gross unfair generalisations .We have Mr Hunt and the national press insulting us on a virtually daily basis,we don't need you doing the same.

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  • whether you are a gp or a hospital dr - we have ALL been let down.

    the problem is that society doesn't want to face up to it's responsibility and make a decision on the form of state healthcare it wants backed up with the funding for it. Society wants perfect healthcare (no errors) with zero harm, local staff (speaks the Queen's English who won't spend their time getting pregnant, having families and will devote themselves to servitude), they want the BEST doctors in the world (who will also work for minimum wage), and want the BEST treatments in the world with unlimited free access to it and free at the point of use BUT society doesn't want to cover the costs! So the buck is passed to the very front-line folks who provide the face-to-face care. The pressure then results in tit-for-tat exchanges with one front-line group attacking each other. so far IMGs, female doctors, GPs, A&E Consultants, nurses etc have been targeted.

    I say stuff society and pass the problem back !

    Time to leave the NHS.

    Let society pick up the pieces !

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  • "I'm afraid i have no sympathy for you lot.You claim that you're overworked and burnt out but it doesn't seem to show in the quality of your referrals"

    Err this doesn't make sense at all. Surely being overworked or burnt out would indeed lead to poor referrals? Or would you expect overwork to lead to better referrals?

    I call foul play here - you can't possibly be one of our Consultant colleagues - your comments are too stupid!

    "A common complaint i hear from patients in A/E is that either they couldn't get through to their GP"

    A common complaint that we here is that Consultants didn't listen at all and that the standard of care in hospitals is awful. Does this also make it true?

    Totally bizarre - seriously, you can't be an actual Doctor!

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  • Leave the nhs on mass, go private, job done. Do this or stop moaning. Simple - happy private GP

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  • Indeed, GPs deserve to be looked after too, they are only human being just as everyone else in the society. Burnout is a superb and precise description of the working status of most of them. Working from 8am-8pm, many of them arrived at the surgery premises at 7:30am or even earlier, this is an on-going status year after year. How can one keep energetic with such working hours and the stress under. They may put themselves into health risks.

    Looking after those aged over 75, 24/7, is not realistic underpinning what they have already had on their daily 'dos'. The carers system may be able to cover this.

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  • Dangerous when Doctors sit in silos criticising each other over inter-silo communication problems. "I understand the body but not the head,' is a frequent type of phrase I hear as a coach. All I can tell you is that my practice receives more and more calls around burnout, fortunately solutions can be found but support from fellow doctors is helpful as people get back to work.
    I would ask you to reflect about just how happy you would be if the next time you fly off for a holiday you knew that your pilot had been flying ten hours a day for the last five days. Don't worry it will never happen because there are clear rules that forbid this. Planes falling out of skies are quantifiably disastrous but wonky diagnosis by fatigued doctors is tougher.
    In the meantime I would suggest a little fellow understanding and communication, instead of shouting abuse at each other from your silos.

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  • I waited and waited. Kept hearing that something had to be done and something would be done about it. Hit 50 and thought I don't believe you anymore. So I left General Practice - and what I left behind became even worse. I guessed right. Simple as that.

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