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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’.

Related images

  • Battling Burnout Logo

Readers' comments (102)

  • mr hunt is killing off gps and nurses

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  • Jeremy Hunt isn't helping ... yes

    but ultimately we are to blame as 40,000 of us couldn't get together to agree on a direction for primary care and back it up with appropriate action.

    yet we just had an election in which millions voted :(

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  • Its tipping point time.

    Too many friends and colleagues have been reduced by the NHS from being the brightest and the best of their generation to shallow husks, hanging on in misery and despair praying for a way out from the nightmare.

    However you can forget the BMA or RCGP in actually looking after its members interests by helping the profession to escape from the malignant environment of the NHS.

    Its got to be a grass roots rebellion.

    May I suggest that Pulse resurrects and prints Jon Regglers Plan B (aka the Guernsey Model) updated for 2015 accompanied by authoritative articles by experts such as accountants and our dental colleagues on how to run a private system.

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  • Coming to 54 and planning retirement next year. Any takers for a GMS Practice in a purpose built premises in sunny Rochester, please contact sanjeev@wp.pl. View at
    www.marloweparkmedicalcentre.nhs.uk

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  • 8:24pm

    Just employ a salaried GP. A simple answer to all problems - something which most partner have done and are doing.

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  • Dr Gerada I think the work you are doing here highlighting the pressures of workload and burnout is good and I thank you for your efforts. In not sure how effective it will be because the issues that had caused these problems have been around for some time. It didn't just get to this, people have been complaining for many years.

    I think that the profession is divided and will remain so. I think you have achieved a great deal within your career but wonder if the problems you seek to correct are solvable across the board.

    My question to you is this. As a young mid thirties GP with a wife and child, do you think my future is better off remaining in the uk and trying to deal with the very issues that are beginning to lead to personal burnout, knowing full well that my retirement age is almost 70. Or do I take control of my future and take one of the dozen or so positions I have been offered abroad? I have been offered upwards of £30k to relocate with a targeted salary of Upwards of £180k with no out of hours commitment, hours that suit me, no home visits, a clearly defined contract of work of what I'm expected to do and can charge for, annual leave as I please (all I have to do is cover my overhead) full control of which patients I accept into my practice and anecdotally respect from the general public and government of this land abroad.

    I wonder what you would do in my situation if the roles were reversed?? As a high profile leader in our profession I would be honoured for your help and opinion and wonder if you trust yourself with my future??

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  • 8.03 is correct. A grass roots survey of who would support the Guernsey model, not voted for by LMC members, Bma or rcgp, but all gps in the uk. This is the only way to regain a Dr patient relationship free from having to beg central government.

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  • You can hardly expect Clare G to advise you and indeed why is it that she is taking the lead on this issue. Shouldn't the elected committee members be doing the job? Clare states in a post that she is doing what she can both from the front and behind the scenes - however any action needs to be collective, not taken by an individual 'behind the scenes'.

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  • Sorry but it's pretty naive to think action should not be taken behind the scenes. Keeping "back channels" open is how a lot action can be targeted and timed appropriately to go public.

    I admire CG for having the guts to speak out. I understand why and hope she continues to do so, ignore the messages "off tangient" as I know you will Clare. I wish I was more able to do more. The point here is BMA and RCGP are only just starting to really get their act together in a forceful way. It's taken quite few years. We surely must thank any GPs that drives it forwards and helps keep the momentum up whether they are on elected committees or not..
    DB

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  • When I started 30 yrs ago ,I could talk to the chief for Dorset and meet on the day as he knew I served his patients . Now you can't even get a junior to help as the CCG is run by retired GPs and all the money they get is for them to serve ex PCT staff .
    Cuts are made to many but never their ex practices

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