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UK GPs ‘most stressed among world’s wealthiest nations’

GPs in the UK are more stressed and dissatisfied than their counterparts in the world’s wealthiest nations, a think-tank repeatedly quoted by Government ministers has found.

US think-tank the Commonwealth Fund has found there had been ‘dramatic changes’ in the views of UK GPs, with less than a quarter saying it ‘works well’ in 2015 – down from around 50% in 2012. 

The think-tank last year concluded that the NHS was the best health system in the world, a conclusion that has been repeatedly hailed by ministers. 

But this year’s report paints a different picture, with 59% of the 1,001 UK GPs surveyed reporting they are stressed compared with only 18% in the Netherlands, where GPs were the least stressed.

The Commonwealth Fund theorised that ‘burnout may be a concern’ particularly in countries ‘where front-line primary care doctors are the focal point of health system change’.

The largest survey of GP burnout in the UK – carried out by Pulse earlier this year – found 50% of GPs are at high risk of burnout, up four percentage points from the same survey two years ago. 

Other findings from the report included:

  • GPs in UK and Sweden are most likely to say quality of care for patients has gotten worse in the last three years, with 36% of GPs saying so in both countries;
  • Just 21% of UK GPs think time spent on administrative issues related to insurance or claiming payment is a major problem, compared with 60% in the Netherlands and 54% in the US, perhaps reflecting differences in the respective health systems;
  • Dutch (88%) and UK GPs (86%) are most likely to frequently make home visits, compared with the US, where only 6% of GPs do so;
  • UK GPs feel the most well-prepared to manage the care of patients needing palliative care;
  • UK GPs are most likely to have practice nurses or case managers in their practice managing chronic conditions (87% compared with 8% in Switzerland).
  • A very high proportion of UK GPs have practice arrangements for patients to see a GP out of hours without going to an emergency department (89%, compared to 94% in the Netherlands and 39% in the US).

But the most striking result for UK GPs came from their low satisfaction rates.

The report said: ‘There were dramatic changes in views among UK doctors, however. In 2015 only 22% of UK primary care doctors thought their health system worked well and needed only minor changes, down from nearly half in 2012.’

It added: ‘In England, declines in doctors’ views of the health care system, ratings of the quality of care, and satisfaction practicing medicine have coincided with a surge in the number of doctors considering early retirement and declining numbers of trainees choosing primary care as a profession.’

Researchers concluded that ‘policy makers should monitor these front-line perspectives as health reforms are conceived and implemented’.

The Commonwealth Fund surveyed GPs in Austria, Canada, Germany, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland, UK and the US between March and June 2015. The countries were comparable due to their similar demographic meaning GPs care increasingly for older patients with complex health problems.

A new national support service for all hard-pressed GPs will launch from next April, in what could be a major step forward for Pulse’s long-running campaign to highlight soaring rates of burnout amongst the profession.