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Can GP ‘resilience’ coaches help stave off burnout?

NHS England is planning to train 160 GPs to coach colleagues in resilience to help them cope with stress and burnout and managing workload.

The courses, to be run by Health Education England (HEE) and the Faculty of Medical Leadership and Management (FMLM), will teach GPs to support colleagues in improving work-life balance, recognising signs of stress and burnout, managing conflict and finding solutions to problems.

NHS England will not reveal the size of the funding for the programme, saying it is commercially sensitive, but says it forms part of the £10m, 10-point plan to improve GP recruitment and retention launched last year.

But GP leaders warn the scheme fails to address the root causes of stress, and shifts the blame onto GPs themselves.

The FMLM, a professional body established by the medical royal colleges in 2011 to improve medical leadership, will provide coaching to burnt out GPs to enable them to stay in practice. The FMLM says this will help GPs to:

  • Improve work-life balance and feel more in control at work
  • Identify solutions to work-related issues
  • Gain greater confidence in managing conflict and having difficult conversations in the workplace
  • Gain greater self-awareness of the symptoms of stress and burnout.


The invitation to GPs interested in the scheme says: ‘FMLM has been funded by NHS England to offer up to four free coaching sessions to GPs in England who are either thinking of giving up practice or have recently returned to general practice after a break.

‘Our expert coaches are experienced in coaching doctors and understand the issues GPs currently face. They are available to support GPs who feel they have reached a crossroads – or the end of the road – in general practice.’

There are few details of the element of the scheme that involves coaching GPs to help their colleagues. However, an NHS England spokesperson tells Pulse: ‘As part of our commitment to help GPs, we have commissioned a number of programmes offering GPs the chance to train as coaches and support one another in managing stress and workload. Evidence shows this approach is effective in helping GPs remain in practice.

‘So far we have commissioned 160 places on coaching courses, which will enable GPs to train as coaches and offer coaching support to colleagues across the system. FMLM is one of the organisations delivering the coaching training programme, with the others being delivered by Health Education England.’

Swindon GP and Family Doctor Association chair Dr Peter Swinyard says the FDA floated this idea to NHS England a few months ago as a way to retain older GPs to ‘help struggling GPs and practices’ rather than asking them to deal with ‘the persisting stress of front-line practice’.

Dr Swinyard says: ‘We are very positive about this and hope that it does not get mired in a sea of bureaucracy.’

But Hull GP Dr Zoe Norris, founder of support group GP Survival, says: ‘This is not the answer. It seems to put the blame for GPs struggling with workload firmly in our own laps when the truth is the exact opposite.

‘Perhaps if HEE concentrates on running a decent recruitment campaign, and addressing workload issues instead of providing a tiny number of coaches we might get further.’

The GMC last year proposed to introduce ‘emotional resilience’ into medical training, following comments by its chair Professor Terence Stephenson that doctors needed this quality in a similar way to soldiers in Afghanistan.

In a recent survey of doctors by the Royal Medical Benevolent Fund, 90% of respondents said working hours put pressure on their relationships outside work.

‘We are helping people who love being GPs’

dr jane povey3x2

The Faculty of Medical Leadership and Management has been commissioned by NHS England to offer four one-to-one coaching sessions to 50 GPs who are either thinking of giving up general practice, or have recently returned.

Many applicants say they love being a GP, but can’t see a way forward at the moment. We’re talking about enabling them to continue seeing their patients, and that involves personal leadership and resilience, and leadership within their teams.

The GPs will be able to set their own goals. Typically, a coach’s role is to anticipate, analyse and challenge patterns of thinking and support individuals to arrive at their own decisions and achieve their goal.

This is not about us trying to toughen up GPs, or blame them; it’s a well-recognised way of helping people navigate their way forward.

This could certainly be rolled out. NHS England is expecting a formal evaluation. Hopefully, this type of career development will become part of GP occupational health support.

Dr Jane Povey is a GP in Shropshire, and deputy medical director for primary care at the Faculty of Medical Leadership and Management


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