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Quarter of practices register increase in clinical staff taking sick leave

One in four practices have registered an increase in the amount of sick leave taken by staff compared with last year, which leaders have put down to ‘significant’ stress, a survey by an LMC has revealed

The survey by Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire LMC of 157 practices in April and May also found that 12% of the practices surveyed had had one or more members of clinical staff on long-term sick leave, including 7 GP partners and 3 salaried GPs.

Dr Peter Graves, chair of the LMC, said that the LMC’s pastoral support team had been supporting ‘well over 1%’ of GPs in Hertfordshire and Bedfordshire with problems relating to ‘significant’ stress.

He said: ‘Some [are] really quite ill. I continue to pressurise CCGs to commission a specialist service for doctors who, it is very well documented, are a “hard to reach” group and can put patients at risk if they work when unwell.’

The LMC asked member practices whether they had noticed an increase in the number of clinical staff taking sick leave compared with last year, and 25% of respondents said yes.

The survey also found that 30% of the 157 practices recorded at least one unfilled doctor’s position. Of these, 22 practices had vacancies for one or more partners, and 28 for salaried GPs. Overall, the survey revealed a shortfall of 60 GP positions across both counties.

Twenty practices reported they expected more GPs to leave, for reasons ranging from retirement to stress and overwork. The pressure of overwork was well documented in many survey comments, with one respondent stating that clinicians were under ‘extreme pressure’ trying to meet the needs of new enhanced services.

Another said: ‘The staff are currently constantly complaining of the stress levels and the increased work load, [but] the surgery is unable to provide additional staff to reduce the stress purely because of the financial constraints placed upon us.’

The survey comes as Pulse reported an increase in the number of practices seeking advice from accountants about merging services with other surgeries. Pulse’s campaign to Stop Practice Closures is gathering momentum, in response to reports of an unprecented number of practice and list closures.