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More than half of GPs and practice staff physical illness caused by stress



Just over half of GPs and primary care staff report that workplace stress has caused them to become physically ill, according to findings of a major new survey.

The survey of 1,004 GPs and practice staff by the UK charity Mind showed nearly nine out of ten – 88% – of all respondents found their work life ‘very’ or ‘fairly’ stressful.

Over half – 54% – of all respondents said work stress affected their physical health, while a fifth (21%) said it had led to them developing a mental health problem.

GP leaders said the findings echoed their concerns that increased workload demands was causing burnout and called on the Government to commit to rolling out its new mental health support service to staff as well as GPs.

The findings come after it emerged NHS England has already fallen behind with launching a new £16m national occupational mental health support service for GPs.

The scheme was launched as part of the GP Forward View earlier this year, marking a victory for Pulse’s three-year Battling Burnout campaign to get comprehensive mental health support for GPs.

The campaign has raised concerns about rising work stress among GPs, with a survey last summer revealing that 50% of GPs were at high risk of complete burn-out – up four percentage points from the year before.

The Mind UK survey, which was conducted during June 2016 and included 111 GPs, found 43% – and 50% of GPs specifically – had resigned or thought about resigning because of their stress, while nearly 8% (14% of GPs) said workplace stress had led to suicidal thoughts.

The study also highlighted that practice staff feared disclosing how stressed they felt to colleagues – one in three believed that disclosing that they were overly stressed would lead to being perceived as less capable as others, while two-fifths thought this would count against them when up for promotion.

Dr Simon Braybrook, a GP in Cardiff who has experienced mental health problems related to workplace stress, said: ‘Stress and mental illness is becoming rife amongst primary care workers and we urgently need to talk more about how we can best look after ourselves and each other.’

He added: ‘It’s so important because that’s the only way we are going to do the best for our patients.’

Dr Chaand Nagpaul, chair of the GPC, said the poll reinforced BMA findings on how ‘GPs and their staff are under unsustainable pressure because they are having to work long, intense hours on dwindling resources against a backdrop of rocketing patient demand.’

Dr Nagpaul said that although the Government has promised a new service to provide mental health support to GPs, ‘we need to ensure all parts of the primary care workforce have access to appropriate support’.

And he added that ‘we need to address the root cause of the problems facing general practice by delivering a properly funded, fully staffed service that can meet the public’s needs, and ensure that GPs are able to work within safe and manageable limits’.

RCGP chair Dr Maureen Baker said the results showed pressure on GPs ‘is having a serious impact on their physical and mental health’.

Dr Baker said NHS England’s GP Forward View would ‘go a long way to alleviating the current pressures’ but called on the Government to implement the pledges in it ‘as a matter of urgency, so we can keep our profession strong’.

Despite the urgent need, delays to the new support service mean that instead of being rolled out in December, the scheme is now not expected to start until 2017.

And while NHS England has also pledged money for improving the health of the wider NHS workforce, and providers can earn a share of a £450m fund if they offer healthy workplace options including action to reduce work related stress, there is as yet no specific commitment to occupational mental health support for other primary care staff.

A spokesperson for NHS England said: ‘We recognise that the growth in demand in primary care means that family doctors and their teams are under increasing stress, which is why there has been significant investment to increase capacity in primary care and reduce bureaucracy.

‘In addition we are investing £19.5m in a new, national service to improve GPs’ access to mental health support helping those suffering with burn out and stress, and ultimately the retention of GPs. Work is under way to ensure GPs will soon be able to access free, confidential local support and treatment.’

Survey – key findings

  • 88% (94% of GPs) find their work life very stressful or fairly stressful
  • 83% (85% of GPs) say that workplace stress affects their ability to sleep
  • 54% (50% of GPs) say it has affected their physical health
  • 21% (23% of GPs) say it has led them to develop a mental health problem
  • 8% said workplace stress had led to suicidal thoughts – GPs 14%
  • 43% (50% of GPs) said workplace stress had led them to resigning or considering resigning
  • 42% drink alcohol at least once a week to cope with pressures in the workplace – GPs 51%
  • 7% take prescribed medication for a mental health problem daily to cope with pressures in the workplace – GPs 12%
  • 17% have called in sick to avoid work – GPs 7%

Lack of support in work

  • One in three (31%) feel disclosing their stress levels would lead them to being perceived as less capable than other colleagues – GPs 31%
  • Two in five people (22%) said they feel it would count against them when considered for promotion – GPs 13%
  • A third (32%) felt their boss would be sympathetic but not actively help – GPs 32%
  • One in ten (11%) wouldn’t feel able to disclose being overly stressed to their boss – GPs 15%

 Findings from Dods Research poll of 1,004 NHS staff working in primary care including 111 GPs.