The Government should set up a CQC-style, arms-length body to hold the NHS to account over GP and other staff burnout, the RCGP president has told MPs.
Professor Dame Clare Gerada, who stepped down as medical director for NHS Practitioner Health last week, told the House of Commons health of Social Care Committee that the confidential mental health support service saw 5,000 people in the first year of the pandemic.
This was as many as in the 10 years since its launch, and GPs represent ‘about 60-70%’ of that figure, she added.
Professor Gerada siad that mental health should be ‘as important’ to the NHS as ‘finance’, telling the MPs that a new ‘arms-length body’ for staff mental health should be set up by the Government.
This should have ‘the same authority, the same power and the same resource’ as ‘for example, the CQC’ or the national ‘speak up’ guardian’s office, she added.
And it would be a body that ‘holds to account the NHS around its wellbeing; that sets the metrics, the standards, that looks at research and development, that supports health organisations to embed good practice in their organisations’.
‘If we had that, I think we would be in a better place than we are now,’ she said.
She was responding to a question from the select committee’s chair Jeremy Hunt, who had asked whether NHS staff ‘have enough support for long Covid’, when she made the point that the issue is much wider.
She told the former health secretary that while her charity has ‘heard tale after tale of doctors and those in other professions who are being sacked because they’ve got long Covid’, this is ‘just one issue going on and it’s one very specific issue’.
‘What’s underneath all of this is, I think, the symptoms that we’ve got are symptoms of an organisation that is unable to care for its workforce in the way that it should be caring,’ she said.
‘So long Covid is an issue but I don’t think we should go down a rabbit hole, because we then start providing support for long Covid when actually what we need to do.
‘You can’t get burnout if you’re not on a burning platform, and working in the NHS almost entirely is working on a burning platform.
‘And we have to put that fire out, not just patch people up who are burnt,’ she concluded.
Last week, the BMA called for a £1bn ‘welfare and wellbeing fund’ for NHS staff, as part of its requests for the upcoming Spring Budget statement.
And the GMC recently warned that GPs are most likely to ‘bear the brunt’ of doctor burnout, with the proportion of GPs ‘struggling with workload’ in 2021 more than doubling on the year before.