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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)

  • I'm a GP partner doing 8 sessions plus a bit of locumming and federation work and tbh don't feel stressed.

    Doctor and patient satisfaction are inversely related. We offer fewer appointments, dont touch phone triage and do all paperwork together every morning (if someone is running very late their work is done for them). We don't chase up anything for anyone (who has capacity) and ask patients to do things themself. We also don't use practice notes as we feel they generate needless work - this is important. We also ignore the last 20 QOF points as they are not worth it.

    Ruthless time management is the key a happy practice- they are out there.

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  • By your inverse law then patient satisfaction in your practice is in the pits. That in itself doesn't really bother me but how bout the possible consequences? If this is reflected in the FFT the CQC will come knocking :)

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  • It's funny how all these GP partners who are now crying burnout didn't even raise a squeak when salaried docs became their slaves post 2004.

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  • It's 2015 not 2004. What was right then (and I understand the profession was in crisis then) doesn't have to be right for ever and ever and ever and ever until the end of time.
    Time to restablish some balance, although this time I think it should outwith the free at point of use NHS.

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  • Anon the post again...s/he IS a qualified GP it seems have taken the easy option of sessional/locum so should not be as at risk of burnout. It does beg the question - why are some able to carry out extra commitments as well as running a practice without burn out whilst others cannot. Seems anon 9.01am is feeling burnt out after 3 days work, 4 days holiday......poor sausage

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  • This comment has been moderated.

  • Clare - you began the 'splitting' on this thread..please be more careful not all are on the same page and have the right to speak without being shouted down

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  • Let's criticise the common enemy of GPs please, be constructive.

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  • Dear 5.58
    Not sure i understand your comment. I did not begin the splitting. I stated the facts. GPs do more clinical sessions as core part of their work than any other specialty. Why is it splitting? We need to stop being so politically correct and quick to find offence when its not there. I have asked repeatedly of examples where NORMAL (i.e. not including over time) includes more than 6 sessions face to face clinical time (a session is 4.5 hours).

    We need to get facts as someone on this post says of

    - vacancies
    - hours worked
    - absentism and presentism and more

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  • Don't know how many of you have that feeling when you finish work at 6.30, having started at 7am, and find that even taking a deep breath is an effort let alone moving a finger. That is utter exhaustion and a lot of colleagues will share that feeling of absolute apathy at the end of the day.

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  • friendly Journalist wants to speak to a GP who is thinking of leaving early due to work related stressed
    Contact her directly

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