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Why are GPs' occupational health services being cut?

Protecting patient safety should always be the number one priority for the health service, but we must ensure that GPs and other doctors are properly supported when they are put through fitness to practice investigations.

Many GPs who come out of the process vindicated have told me how emotionally draining, frightening and stressful they have felt during what is often described as an ‘ordeal’ - hardly surprising, as the GMC has the power to take away livelihoods and end careers built on decades of hard work.

It’s also a process that can take years to work with, making it even more stressful to cope with. 

No one disagrees that at times it is necessary to take action against doctors to protect patients but we should not ignore the difficulty that many innocent doctors experience. In a climate where many GPs are overworked (with a recent BMA survey suggesting four in ten describe themselves as close to burnout) a GMC investigation has the potential to push some vulnerable people over the edge. 

What is needed is to identify and tackle the problems in advance of doctors getting to the GMC, which means a fully funded and proactive occupational health service should be essential.  This has to be a priority for the future. Schemes such as the one currently in operation in London provide a life-saving service but sadly rather than rolling this excellent scheme out nationally we are seeing cuts instead. While we are all aware of the acute funding problems facing the NHS, we should not allow financial imperatives to put the welfare of doctors at risk. This is the kind of short-sightedness that not only costs the health service more in the long run but ultimately, as the GMC suggests, costs lives too. 

It is pleasing that the GMC has acknowledged the shortcomings in the current situation and are looking towards reform for the future. The BMA provides counselling and support services for all doctors, but we do strongly believe that more must be done to help support vulnerable doctors. Action is long overdue and must begin immediately.

Dr Richard Vautrey is the deputy chair of the GPC and a GP in Leeds.

 

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Readers' comments (4)

  • Have been supporting GPs in SW for 20 years 1200 contacts 60 in treatment at any one time low suicide rate low suspension rate good outcome in resilience cost effective so NHS England are axing it saying use local NHS mental health instead Ben Charnaud consultant psychiatrist wit OH Devon Cornwall

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  • I am currently under investigation by the GMC following an allegation made by the local safeguarding team. The initial allegation, which went so far as a formal police interview under caution, was thrown out by both the police and the safeguarding team, but the GMC were notified automatically before I was interviewed. The support I have received has been nil. The BMA counselling service said they could offer six 20 minute telephone consultations, but there was a six week wait. NHS England offered an occupational health assessment and promised support, but this amounted to a mental health assessment to ensure I was safe to practice (fair enough), together with an investigation into my prescribing habits, referral rates and previous appraisals, plus any previous complaints. The Occupational health consultant recommended NHS England refer me to the PDP in London, but when I had heard nothing after 4 weeks and I asked how the referral was progressing only to find no referral had been made; they suggested going to my own GP and getting him to refer me and to try and arrange funding myself through our local CCG. Is it any wonder doctors are feeling undervalued?

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  • Re anon partner comment had he been in Devon or Cornwall he would have been seen in a week and in treatment within two to three weeks

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  • Break GP's and get them under the thumb!

    GP's trained for years to care for the sick, they should have trained to be pen pushers, that is what this government is reducing them too.

    GP's need all the support they can get, GP bashing has become a serious disease designed to wipe out a very valued part of the NHS system. Without GP's therei s no NHS/

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