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Revealed: The rising tide of GP burnout as NHS cuts support

Exclusive Rising numbers of GPs are so stressed during their working day that they are at a high risk of burning out completely, reveals the largest ever survey conducted in the profession.

The Pulse survey of 2,230 UK GPs shows 50% are at high risk of burnout, up four percentage points from the same survey two years ago.

GP leaders say the health service has become an ‘industrial hazard’ and that burnout is forcing more GPs to leave the profession.

But the few occupational health schemes providing support to struggling GPs in England have had their funding cut and in Scotland NHS managers are looking at charging for their services.

The Pulse survey shows that three-quarters of GPs feel emotionally exhausted while 25% report a low sense of personal accomplishment.

Dr Daniel Mounce, a former GP in Bradford, left the profession ‘after falling apart mid-consultation’.

He said: ‘For me, leaving general practice has been like leaving an abusive relationship. The shaming and invective, the fear, the unreasonable demands were about driving down self-esteem. I can’t quite believe I ever thought I could stick it for another 30 years.’

Doncaster GP Dr Shahzad Arif, who was recently slapped with a breach notice by NHS managers after burnout forced him take sick leave, told Pulse he was ‘frustrated’ at the total absence of support.

He said: ‘I think it was perhaps something waiting to happen; there was a slight trigger that day because the practice had been unusually busy and I decided I need a break, I couldn’t go on.’

June 2015 issue cover story - GP burnout infographic 460x368

In response to the first burnout survey, Pulse launched its Battling Burnout campaign that last year won a pledge to fund occupational health support for all GPs in England.

But NHS England has yet to release the long-overdue service specifications, and in the meantime has slashed funding for previously excellent mental health support services in Devon, leaving GPs to resort to self-funding.

In Lancashire and Cumbria, LMC chief executive Peter Higgins said that NHS England scrapped the previously ‘very good’ services in 2013, and it has so far refused bids from the LMC to have mental health service put in place.

In Kent, LMC medical secretary Dr John Allingham said: ‘We are hanging on by the skin of our teeth. We have occupational health funding for next year, but nothing guaranteed going forwards.’

It is the same case in Lothian, where GPC executive member Dr Dean Marshall tells Pulse there was a counselling service and occupational health ‘but now they’re talking about charging GPs for it’.

Former RCGP chair Professor Clare Gerada, medical director of a confidential mental health service for doctors in London – said: ‘The NHS at the moment is an industrial hazard, and especially for GPs. Of course we go beyond the call of duty, but to do so every single day is causing great harm to GPs.’

Professor Gerada said her service - the Practitioner Health Programme - had been forced to shut its doors for six weeks in March after a ‘massive increase’ in demand, most of it from GPs.

It comes as the Government plans to roll out seven-day working for GP practices and NHS England’s Five Year Forward view plans for GPs to take on more care outside hospitals. The health secretary promised GPs a ‘new deal’ that will be announced this month to ‘look at why GPs have so much burnout’.

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Readers' comments (102)

  • Vinci Ho

    Fallacy- Efficiency saving
    Collateral damage- Burnout syndrome of all medical professionals
    Apocalypse - Desolation caused by irresponsible politicians and bureaucrats

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  • Global shortage in healthcare workers.

    We are losing our GPs to other countries who can offer better terms and conditions as they offer a mix of private and state. We must do the same to hang on to our brightest and best and attract the best.

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  • Didn't think I could ever have done another 15 years at 4 days a week without breaking down. However now I work 4.5 to 5 days. Don't feel exhausted, every day feels like a holiday and I can easily see myself working another 20+ years! I have also increased my income. How? I'm in Australia of course. If you can, move over here quickly before they raise the drawbridge!

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  • Gritting teeth and hanging on for 18 months
    ........would prev had considered going to 65
    ........now not sure I will make 59

    .......Huge sympathy for those following behind and those in hospital

    ......If paid more ......I would reduce my hours immediately so that I could reduce the workload and maintain my sanity...and probably be able to go on longer.
    ......but where would I find anyone to take up the slack?

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  • I am not saying hospital doctors are not struggling. Of course they are. But GPs are the only group singled out as being 'lazy', we have this added burden. And 'how can I say what I say'? because I look after 100's of sick health professionals - I get all their stories. I find out what other hospital and other doctors do, what their week is like and how bad in comparison it is for GPs.

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  • And yes, I am talking about CLINICAL sessions.

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  • Clare is right - all doctors or even all clinicians are under pressure but the press has singled out GPs as being lazy. There was a lot of sympathy for front line a&e staff in the press (rightly so) but never for GPs. However, more sympathy isn't going to help. I see a total collapse in goodwill and GP who are still partners all seem unhappy. I don't know a single GP partner who isn't stressed. We really need to look at our option as a profession and start debating the contract vs salaried vs alternative models. if not there won't be anyone in the profession left !

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  • 2:28pm ''I don't know a single GP partner who isn't stressed''

    You must be joking

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  • If we don't like the contract, do something else? Hardly a fair suggestion when it is outside influences wrecking the job. I have spent many years building up my practice serving a population most of which would not afford private health care while NHS payments are still being deducted from taxes. Yes, I could retire early, emigrate, try locuming or apply to work somewhere else on a salaried basis but why should I? Am I not allowed to protest at the damage being done to general practice in the hope it will stop? I didn't vote for the 2004 contract. I had no say in the current contract. Pre 2004 I didn't much care about the contract as it was not such an intrusive part of my working life. Since then, it seems to have been used to catch us out, beat us over the head and generally interfere with the business of actually looking after patients. It shouldn't be like this.

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  • Anonymous | GP Partner | 04 June 2015 10:11am

    Considering that most GPs these days are part time it's hard to see how they can be feeling burnt out.I would say that they're spoilt.They should compare their situation with those of their patients to see how lucky they are to still have the luxury to retire early due to the very generous NHS pension scheme that scrictly speaking,as being self employed,they should not be entitled to.

    This is the most outrageous comment I read in this article. So apparently this GP Partner thinks we should be treated like the average working class, blue-collar patient, who for whatever reason, did not manage to get the grades to do medical schoool, who did not slave away in foundation training or GP training. Wake up pls, we are highly trained professionals and whatever others might say, are worth our weight in GOLD! if not more. or at least, surely more than NHS managers, lawyers, CQC/GMC etc.
    But no, I bet this person thinks I should be paid the same as my receptionist, that I don't deserve to have support for work-related stress, or a pension, or to enjoy the fruits of my labour.
    I do sympathize with my (less advantaged)patients all the time, but also recognise that WE GPs worked hard to get where we are, and if the UK does not recognise our (current batch of GPs) value, we will go somewhere else where we're appreciated

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