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Revealed: Half of GPs at high risk of burnout

Exclusive: Almost half of GPs are jeopardising their mental health and are at a high risk of burning out, a major Pulse survey of 1,800 GPs has found.

The survey shows 46% of GPs are classified as being at high risk of developing burnout, with partners and those working in deprived areas particularly badly hit.

A fifth of GPs said that they do not think they are positively influencing other people’s lives or accomplishing much in their role – which GP leaders have said was ‘hugely concerning’ for the future of the profession - and prompted Pulse to launch a Battling Burnout Campaign.

The figures come after a huge hike in workload was brought in as part of the GP contract for 2013/14 and as health secretary Jeremy Hunt announced he was planning changes to the GP contract to make the profession responsible for 24/7 patient care.

Most of the GPs surveyed are classified as being at risk of burnout in at least one area, measured using the validated Maslach Burnout Inventory tool. The tool was adapted for GPs and drawn up with input from RCGP chair Professor Clare Gerada and the College of Medicine.

The survey of 1,784 GPs was conducted on the Pulse website and at the Pulse Live conference in May. It contained questions assessing three key areas that signal a high risk of burning out – emotional exhaustion, depersonalisation and a low level of personal accomplishment.

A survey of 500 British GPs published in BMJ Open last year found 46% were emotionally exhausted, 42% were depersonalised and 34% felt they were not achieving a great deal. This compared with much higher rates in the Pulse survey of 74%, 43% and 20%, respectively.

GPC deputy chair Dr Richard Vautrey called Pulse’s findings ‘hugely concerning’. He said: ‘It’s alarming that so many GPs are burnt out.

‘The current level of work is unsustainable. I hope enough alarm bells are ringing in the Department of Health, in NHS England, Health Education England and all the devolved nations for them to say “we need to tackle this”.’

Dr Michelle Drage, chief executive of Londonwide LMCs, said that burnout was leading to a ‘deterioration’ of general practice, and that there was little political will to solve the problem.

She said: ‘That would be terrible if patients looked back and said “We used to have a GP”. We’re getting closer and closer to that point. Rising levels of burnout are causing a deterioration of general practice as a profession.’

Dr Rob Barnett, chair of Liverpool LMC said that the increase in QOF work and bureaucracy around medicine was a factor in GPs becoming less emotionally engaged with their patients, which could lead to mistakes.

He said: GPs having to do things which they think are clinically pointless doesn’t help. I’m aware of practices saying one appointment, one problem, like a conveyor belt. It’s no wonder you get into a certain mode. I can’t work like that but if you’re running behind, you might have to do it that way.’

He added this could have consequences for patients: ‘It’s then that you might start missing things.’

Dr Mike Bewick, deputy director of primary care at NHS England, acknowledged the problem of burnout and said he was ‘committed’ to working with GPs to reduce workload pressures.

He said: ‘GPs play a central role in co-ordinating care for patients and we know that strengthening this role further is central to CCGs’ ambitions for more integrated patient care.

‘We are committed to working with the profession to help address the growing pressures on practice workload and help free up time to focus on delivering more integrated services for patients.’

However, on the ground, LMC leaders report that NHS England is cutting funding to occupational health services which are seeing rising numbers of GPs presenting with symptoms of burnout.

I felt like I was drowning. Every day I was getting up, going to work and hating it. I was there from 8am to 8pm and I was struggling. It was never ending. Knowing it would be the same every day and that I’d have to get up the next day to come back made it difficult to cope.

Read Dr Amy Small’s full story here

For more help and resources on burnout, click here

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.

 

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  • Dr Amy Small

Readers' comments (34)

  • Vinci Ho

    The response from NHSE was like playing back a recorded message in a recording machine . Everybody can say that easily and get recorded . It can be used over and over again .....

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  • As we all know surveys such as these are grossly inaccurate as only the disgruntled bunch reply giving a very skewed result.If there was a massive burnout in progress you would expect to see a high proportion of the younger GPs resigning which they're not.

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  • Young GPs just are not joining the game in the number needed to stand still.Hence extremel difficult to attract new GPs

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  • I disagree. While it is certainly true that the survey results are likely to be high because those most interested (or most worried about their own health) answer it, it is not the younger GPs who are burning out. It is the GP partners over 45 who indeed ARE resigning in droves.
    Younger sessional GPs have more control over their lives and in my view a different attitude anyway. A lot of them do not want to be partners and take on responsibility for finances, management, CCGs etc.
    where does that leave us?
    Personally have given up worrying about it as I'm one of those whose off!

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  • I did the survey and was surprised having put in what I felt were releatively positive answers, still to be labelled at high risk of burnout. From memory, I think it suggested that scores of 17-100 were significant. That seems like a very wide margin to me.

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  • as one of the "young GPs" mentioned above, I can only sympathise with people who are feeling burnt out. I fail to see why anyone in the current era would want to take on a partnership when being a salaried/sessional GP allows you to maintain a better quality of life personally and professionally.

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  • And I, as an older GP, admire the young for being sensible and rational!

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  • Our local VTS scheme in Nottingham is well oversubscribed.Speaking to colleagues in Leicester and Birmingham its the same story there.So there doesn't appear to be a shortage of young doctors entering general practice at least not in the midlands.Can't vouch for areas elsewhere.

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  • Ildiko Spelt

    I have just taken 1 week out to relax as I'm totally burned out.

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  • This fits hand in hand with the recruitment issues that are appearing over the country. I'm not sure how many colleagues are burnt out, but I can see that it's hard to hire a new salaried doctor (or partner) even in nice practices.

    And many many many younger colleagues are still going off toe Aus/Canada early in their careers and never coming back.

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