GPs are the most likely to be at a high risk of burnout compared with other doctors, with around a third (32%) of GPs operating at this level, the GMC has warned.
The proportion of GPs ‘struggling with workload’ – meaning they worked beyond rostered hours and felt unable to cope with workload on a weekly basis – has more than doubled in 2021 compared with 2020, the GMC’s annual state of medical education and practice (SOMEP) report said.
Meanwhile, one in five GPs say they found it difficult to provide sufficient patient care on a daily basis, with a further one in five saying they feel this on a weekly basis.
The GMC said that there ‘needs to be a fresh mindset in the way healthcare teams work together’, or more GPs will leave the workforce.
More than half of the 895 GPs (54%) who responded to its survey are struggling with workload on a weekly basis, compared with 26% in 2020.
The GMC said that GP workload has reached the ‘worrying proportions’ of 2019, and GPs ‘are once again reporting much greater pressure than any other group’.
In comparison, 18% of specialists struggle on a weekly basis, with 11% of doctors in training and 7% of staff grade, specialty and associate specialist doctors and locally employed doctors.
GMC chief executive Charlie Massey said: ‘There is a strong relationship between burnout, workload and levels of support, and GPs are bearing the brunt of those pressures. They are the doctors who most often reported difficulties providing patients with sufficient levels of care, and they are most likely to be at a high risk of burnout.‘
‘There is a real danger that exhaustion and dissatisfaction among GPs will mean more leave the workforce, placing yet more pressure on those who remain. There needs to be a fresh mindset in the way healthcare teams work together, and GPs must be a crucial part of that thinking.’
BMA GP committee chair Dr Farah Jameel said the findings around one in five GPs finding it difficult to provide sufficient care on a daily basis was ‘worrying’.
She said: ‘This data should ring alarm bells for policymakers and Government – not just about how severely over-stretched GPs and their teams are right now, but also on the impact this has on patients and the safety of care they can access.
‘It emphasises what the profession has been saying for several years; that GPs and their teams have been working harder than ever before, and they did all they could to care for patients throughout the pandemic.’
She added: ‘Working at this level of intensity is unsustainable, and, unsafe. And while GPs were the group most likely to be at a high risk of burnout – they were less likely to take time off for stress than the national average, meaning they risk problems getting far, far worse.’
Dr Naeem Nazem, head of medical division at MDDUS, said: ‘The regulator’s report paints a hugely concerning picture of the extensive and relentless toll the pandemic has taken on doctors in 2021.’
He added: ‘We know from the support our members have turned to us for this year, that 2021 has been a tougher, far more relentless year for doctors, especially GPs.
‘Burnout and doctors opting to leave the profession to protect their own mental health is sadly nothing new. But it is clear the pandemic has yet again exacerbated the situation.
‘If these dual crises facing doctors are not addressed, we risk a rise in doctors practising defensively, which is not in the best interests of patients, the health service and the medical profession itself.’
The GMC’s 2020 SOMEP report found that the vast majority of GPs said that Covid-19 has hampered the patient care they are able to provide.
And a GMC survey of doctors leaving the profession revealed more than four in ten GPs who have quit the NHS did so due to burnout.
The report also found:
- Only half of GPs who responded to the 2021 survey said they felt supported by senior medical staff. This is down from 61% in 2020.
- GPs continue to feel supported by immediate colleagues, with 82% agreeing they did in 2021 and 86% in 2020, and non-clinical management, but to a lesser degree.
- In 2021, 62% of GPs felt supported by non-clinical management, compared with 70% in 2020.
- Almost all GP trainers (96%) felt their working environment was fully supportive.
- In the 2020 survey, satisfaction levels were fairly consistent. But this year, satisfaction among specialists and particularly GPs has once again dropped significantly and is now closer to the 2019 level, where 50% said they were overall satisfied with their day-to-day work.
- As with workload and risk of burnout, it was GPs who most often reported difficulties providing patients with a sufficient level of care.
- 47% of GPs respondents to the 2021 survey said they were likely to reduce their contracted hours in the next year.
- On average, GPs described the workload on three quarters (76%) of their days as ‘high intensity’, a far higher proportion than specialists (55% of days), trainees (52% of days), and SAS and LE doctors (57% of days).
- Despite being more at risk of burnout, fewer GPs took a leave of absence (9%), suggesting that they may ‘feel less able to take this action’.
- Six out of 10 doctors (59%) worked beyond rostered hours at least once a week.
- ‘High patient numbers and long waiting lists’ was the biggest area of concern for GPs (21%).
Diversity and inclusion
- Disabled doctors were almost twice as likely as their non-disabled counterparts to be dissatisfied, at increased risk of burnout, struggling with workload and taking ‘hard steps’ to leave to profession
- Doctors from a Black and minority ethnic (BME) background, especially Asian/Asian British doctors, are less likely to feel supported by their close colleagues or that they are part of a supportive team.