GPs are increasingly seeking counselling for their mental health, with the practitioner health support service and BMA’s helpline both experiencing ‘record’ high numbers.
And GP leaders linked the increase in GP mental health issues to the ‘current vitriol and unfair attack against GPs’ in the media.
The BMA said calls to its helpline were at an ‘all-time high’, with more than triple the number of GPs seeking support in July this year compared to pre-pandemic, and double the number one year ago.
The BMA helpline received 290 calls from GPs in July this year, compared with 109 last year and 97 in 2019.
BMA council chair Chaand Nagpaul said in his speech on Monday at the BMA Annual Representative Meeting that ‘51% of doctors’ surveyed by the BMA are ‘experiencing poor mental health’, with ‘calls to the BMA’s counselling helpline… at an all-time high’.
Meanwhile, NHS Practitioner Health has also hit a new record of GPs coming forward with serious mental illness.
The service, which gives free support to NHS staff with mental health and addiction issues, had 73 new GPs register last week.
Its medical director, RCGP president Professor Dame Clare Gerada, said this was ‘one of the highest weekly numbers’ and more than at the peak of the pandemic.
She told Pulse: ‘It’s terrible. All NHS staff are depressed right across the board, and GPs are trying and doing their best.
‘Some GPs are profoundly depressed and in a state where they need to seek proper help. I think we now need to stop measuring mental illness in GPs and start acting in order to reduce it.’
Professor Gerada said the ongoing GP bashing in the media is partly to blame.
‘[They think] we’re out there playing golf or whatever they think we’re doing and that we’re deliberately withdrawing care and closing our doors.’
She said the abuse does not help the declining levels of mental health in the profession.
‘I was shouted at last week by a patient and had a patient complaint as well. I shouldn’t be shouted at.
She added: ‘Each complaint takes us about two hours to deal with, which is about 20 patients that we can’t then deal with. It’s a paradox that we get more complaints and it takes us further away from patient care because we’ve got to deal with the complaints.
Professor Gerada said she is ‘really worried’ not just about the mental health but also the physical health of GPs, and that general practice needs ‘a crisis intervention’.
She said: ‘The top of the health service has to support us. It has to come out with positive words.’
She added: ‘I don’t know what the answer is. I’m just looking after my profession but it’s like looking after people who are abused. GPs are being put in an abusive situation. They are abused and just like people who are abused, they blame themselves and it becomes even worse.
‘Because we’ve had a massive increase in demand for our service, we’re in the same position of not being able to meet the demand. So we’re now having to recruit more staff in order to meet the demand… the whole thing is imploding.’
It comes as RCGP chair Professor Martin Marshall this week said the current onslaught of GP criticism in the media is ‘the worst I can remember in over 30 years of being a GP’.
He also told MPs last week that GP morale is at ‘rock bottom’ and the wellbeing of GPs must be prioritised in future NHS reforms.
In April this year, Dr Gerada said GPs were facing the worst burnout crisis for over a decade and must have the support to demand national leaders address spiralling workloads.
Nearly three quarters of GPs are experiencing increased levels of patient abuse compared with before the pandemic, a Pulse survey revealed.
The Doctors’ Association UK wrote to the Independent Press Standards Organisation (IPSO) this month to report Telegraph columnist Allison Pearson for breaching the Editors’ Code of Practice with ‘inaccurate’ articles in which she suggested GPs are ‘hiding’.
The health secretary Sajid Javid told MPs this week it is ‘high time’ GPs offer more face-to-face appointments, and warned that he intends ‘to do a lot more about it’.