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GP leaders condemn NHS England's 'wilful destruction' of excellent GP occupational health service

NHS England is set to ‘destroy’ one of the best GP occupational health services in the country by refusing to fund it beyond April, GP leaders have warned.

The Devon and Cornwall scheme currently allows GPs to self-refer for problems relating to stress and burnout in the workplace before they develop into performance issues but this will now cease, Devon LMC said.

Devon LMC medical secretary Dr Mark Sanford-Wood said the decision, which he branded as a ‘wilful destruction’ of the scheme, comes after a year-long struggle by local GP leaders in both Devon and Cornwall to protect it.

Writing in the January Devon LMC newsletter, Dr Sanford-Wood said: ‘After [31 March 2015] the only services that will receive funding are the needle-stick injury service and a one-off assessment for practitioners who are struggling. At a meeting that involved the two LMCs it was agreed by the area team that there would be run-off funding arrangements for those practitioners already in treatment but it was made clear that NHS England will henceforth not fund any treatment required by sick doctors.

‘The rationale from NHS England is that all treatments should be commissioned by CCGs and therefore a sick doctor should be directed to standard psychology services in the usual way. The argument has been made strenuously that this is completely inappropriate, but to no avail. I have also written to the clinical chairs of both CCGs inviting them to commission specialist [occupational health] services for sick doctors.

‘Understandably, their response has been cool, leaving us in a situation where the most likely outcome will be the termination of the service on 1 April 2015.’

The news comes as a setback to Pulse’s long-running Battling Burnout campaign to protect GP occupational health support services, and despite NHS England making a pledge to provide national high-quality occupational health support to GPs who need it after making a number of U-turns last year.

Earlier this month, the GPC moved to help struggling GPs by launching a 42-page guide to help GPs manage workload pressures and a recent Pulse survey showed that four in 10 GPs had taken time out for burnout in the previous 12 months or thought they would in the coming year.

The GMC has said it will introduce ‘emotional resilience’ training and a national support service for doctors, after an internal review found that 28 doctors died by suicide while under investigation by the regulator. Earlier this month, GMC executives warned doctors need resilience training ‘like soldiers in Afghanistan’.

Dr Sanford-Wood said: ‘I find myself torn between sadness at the likely loss of such a national beacon of excellence and anger at its wilful destruction by NHS England, particularly on the background of our workforce crisis, and in the very month when research was published showing doctors in performance procedures to have a 2000% increase in suicide risk.’

NHS England’s Devon, Cornwall and Isles of Scilly area team was approached for comment.

Readers' comments (9)

  • In a totally unrelated matter recruitment and retention seems to be a problem. Who'd have guess it....?

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  • They will continue to CUT CUT CUT, whilst telling you all to work harder with less. Remember we are all in together which is why GPs have had successive pay cuts and MPs have awarded themselves 10% pay increases. They know the majority won't do anything and they've bought off any rebellion from our senior colleagues by protecting their pensions and the recent incentives designed to prevent early retirement!!

    We have a divided profession, emasculated and selfish leadership and diabolical administrators intent on squeezing every last drop of blood from each of you. Take care of yourselves, think for your self and act in your own and your family's own interest. I did and that's why I'm writing this from overseas!!!

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  • This on a day when the telegraph reports that Whitehall officials spent 100 MILLION POUNDS on luxury travel ( first class flights and rail travel, taxis and hotels) last year!!

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  • The cutting of occupational health services for stressed out doctors and the fact that a recent a recent GMC executive has stated doctors need resilience training like "soldiers in Afghanistan" in response to a study highlighting suicides amongst doctors under GMC investigation......

    this reminds me of a verse from a poem by Rudyard kipling...

    "When you're wounded and left on Afghanistan's plains,
    And the women come out to cut up what remains,
    Jest roll to your rifle and blow out your brains
    An' go to your Gawd like a soldier."

    The cutting of these services is a disgrace especially given the findings of this recent study; It seems that doctors much like our soldiers are expendable

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  • This is like muzzling the oxen that treads the corn...

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  • There is only one option, start to look after yourselves....

    Cut appointments in half and send everyone to A+E.

    You know, to reduce your stress levels.

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  • NHSE should provide occupational health services for all GPs equally.
    The problem is that this looks like an exceptionally good service and they cannot provide this in all areas.
    Their view is that, as self employed contractors, we should be providing this ourselves for both us and our staff as a trust would. The fact is that there is simply not enough money in our contract to do this and they are using it as another incentive to give up independent contractor status and become employees.
    The fact is, though, that most people will give up their partnerships and become independent portfolio GPs which is the worst of both worlds for NHSE. This policy will backfire spectacularly in them.

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  • Looking after doctors means looking after patients. We need to be well and supported to help us provide good safe patient care. Getting unwell doctors who are off sick back on their feet and back to work is good for everyone especially when we are in short supply. This is such a short-sighted decision to close this service.

    Anyway, I have been supported by this excellent service in the past and I know many colleagues who have too, and I would just like to thank the team for their hard work over the years.

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  • I take it this is a central NHS England decision (despite all previous central U-turns) and not a "local" decision by the LAT?
    Has anyone seen the directions from NHS England - with signature & which of the numerous directorates is taking responsibility?

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