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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)

  • Yep, all sounds familiar, been there & done all of that. I was forced to make the personal decision to go 1/2 time recently, for the sake of my health.

    The future of GP is salaried or locuming for most of us I fear.

    Partner for nearly 18 years.

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  • The counsellor that I saw when I was suffering from burnout, depression and stress asked me one question.

    "Why do you continue to do this?"

    As I could not answer that question. Made arrangements to leave. She ( with an apology for breaching her codes) sent me a watsapp message of congratulations when I changed my status to retired.

    People who take time out to think, get advice, and recover are unlikely to re-enter the workforce with the same commitment. They will either reduce their hours or leave.

    Partner over 20 years, trainer.

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  • All this regulation has come in with little evidence base to support it. Despite all the scrutiny, litigation costs have doubled by a legal system looking to maximise profit over care. No wonder people are burning out.
    There are way too many people making money at the expense of GPs and patients. This is harmful and needs to be reigned in.

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  • This certainly applies to Practice staff too, especially Practice Manager's .....just look around your local patch and see how many have left or gone sick in the last year... It is very worrying when groups of Managers come together and all say...'we can't cope anymore!' Workloads for all Practice staff are unsustainable and we only need a bad winter to see a potential meltdown

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  • its actually so sad to see a workforce with such low morale. It also makes me frustrated and very angry - that we're treated so badly by the DoH and that we are simply not valued.

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  • It is a wonder that 100%of doctors do not suffer burnout because increasing workloads and intense scrutiny, Doctors are caught between devil and deep blue sea .Follow PCT'and NHS instructions to detriment of their patients whom they are sworn to serve or face the axe.Prof Brian Jarman bmj 2012345;e8239 and Prof Michael Hands in BMJ 2013;346;f209 have pointed out the dilemna facing racticing conscientuos doctors.Yet The GMC and all regularity bodies have not sorted this out

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  • Interesting news from Poland where 6000 GPs belonging to ZP ( Zielonogorskie Poruz.) Agreement have refused to refresh Contracts with the government and formed a private company 'Medical Concept' which will now be offering insurance packets to individuals and companies starting 2015.
    Wonder whether that sort of thing could be possible in UK and whether there is enough cohesion amongst GPs to get together on that scale.

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  • Got out taking VER 18 months early after 30 years as a partner. Practice Manager crashed & burned soon after I left. RIP General Practice........

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  • To be honest, although working 50+ hours is tough, I can manage this.

    It's all the relentless crap that comes with it - media bashing, CQC/GMC/CCG over regulation, unreasonable demands from patients, secondary care with largely junior clinicians pushing increasing work to primary care etc etc. This combined with falling income makes me want to quit - unfortunately I've got another 26 years to go.......

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  • Very sad Anonymous GP partner/trainer to see u go; you are the last group we should be losing - how to generate more GPs w/o trainers? Can't say i blame you tho.
    Recruitment figures shud be interesting this yr!

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  • It begs the question of how the other 60% avoid burnout

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  • I was just saying to Jeremy Hunt the other day as I was polishing my pebble thick glasses:"Jazza- what a wizzo way to close the NHS GP crap shoot whilst all the time washing your hands and being able to blame those nasty doctor shits for being too greedy. Anyone I knew at school who got into medical school deserves to burn like Rome...Ah bless you Jazza- that's a nasty sneeze, keep it to yourself, won't be long and you won't be able to afford private insurance or find a useful antibiotic either, what fun we're going to have then whe.he.he.he!!"

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  • Really, though, are we Independent Contractors or not? If we truly are, then the fault lies with us surely.
    If I asked a Contractor to build a house for £50000 and he wanted £75000 because that was he needed to make it worthwhile, he would walk away. End of. No whingeing or moaning. Just turn on your heel and leave.
    So, while Chand and the GPC bemoans our fate, the fault lies squarely with them that the Contract they have negotiated causes 40% burnout, GP trainers to leave and very few altruistic folks wishing to join.
    They say their hands are tied, or the DOH holds all the aces and so on. They write to The Mail for help.
    How come they have not balloted the profession as to direction of travel ? What minimum payments we need to stay? Do we wish to stay at all? Do the majority wish to put up with this bullying DOH/ CQC etc? Do we wish to resign en masse? No body knows if this is what most GPs wish. But 40% burn out is cause for concern.
    I am a GP for 30+ years and I am beginning to find the whole thing almost impossible.
    It is the joy of most of the patients and the sheer magic of medicine that keeps me. I dare say that if asked most GPs might wish to leave like dentists.
    It is baffling in this horror that the GPC has not sent out one survey.

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  • The next 2 weeks are going to be very interesting.

    The NHS has an end of days feel to it at the moment.

    There is no Plan B. This is going to cost the government dearly.

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  • After 25 years with LMS my granddad got a silver watch and a certificate of appreciation . 25 years with NHS increased pension contribution , decreased pension and cessation of seniority payments . With thanks like this everyone will look for the exits .

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  • We may be 'independent' contractors but we work for a monopoly employer. This was a fudge created in 1948 and like so many post war compromises, now looks to be an anachronism.

    If we were truly independent we would be able to sell goodwill and have limited liability. We wouldn't be constantly inspected and messed around by the government of the day. It is time for the GPC to cut the NHS umbilical cord and allow us grow primary care from strength to strength rather than strangle us with red tape.

    With near infinite demand, healthcare could totally transform our economy and unlike manufacturing is something we still lead the world in. All it needs is for government to press the growth button.

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  • What about the various schemes set up to support GPs? are they not being accessed soon enough or not at all?...Is it a good idea to mix and match roles .those who sit on cttees etc seem to be able to take on several roles as well as practice, maybe this option should be spread out more to give a break from the grind.

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  • It is a similar situation to Dorothy's character in the Wizard of Oz. She had always possessed the power to get home to Kansas all along. All that she needed to do was click her shoes together and say " there is no place like home". GP's as individuals are weak but as a collective group they hold immense power but they have chosen not to utilise this so far. Collectively we all have the power to change this very quickly but they need unity and leadership.

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  • Yep all sounds familiar.
    I'm leaving my (excellent) practice after 30 yrs which is sad but I can't put up with crap anymore. Locum sessions next to top up the pension.
    I fear for my remaining partners but have to look after my mental health, and as I'm senior partner I deserve to have the privilege of leaving first.

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  • Such a lot of dark thoughts and abject misery!
    If life in practice is as hard as many are making out then they aren't doing it right.

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