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GP leaders condemn NHS England’s ‘wilful destruction’ of excellent GP occupational health service

NHS England is set to ‘destroy’ one of the best GP occupational health services in the country by refusing to fund it beyond April, GP leaders have warned.

The Devon and Cornwall scheme currently allows GPs to self-refer for problems relating to stress and burnout in the workplace before they develop into performance issues but this will now cease, Devon LMC said.

Devon LMC medical secretary Dr Mark Sanford-Wood said the decision, which he branded as a ‘wilful destruction’ of the scheme, comes after a year-long struggle by local GP leaders in both Devon and Cornwall to protect it.

Writing in the January Devon LMC newsletter, Dr Sanford-Wood said: ‘After [31 March 2015] the only services that will receive funding are the needle-stick injury service and a one-off assessment for practitioners who are struggling. At a meeting that involved the two LMCs it was agreed by the area team that there would be run-off funding arrangements for those practitioners already in treatment but it was made clear that NHS England will henceforth not fund any treatment required by sick doctors.

‘The rationale from NHS England is that all treatments should be commissioned by CCGs and therefore a sick doctor should be directed to standard psychology services in the usual way. The argument has been made strenuously that this is completely inappropriate, but to no avail. I have also written to the clinical chairs of both CCGs inviting them to commission specialist [occupational health] services for sick doctors.

‘Understandably, their response has been cool, leaving us in a situation where the most likely outcome will be the termination of the service on 1 April 2015.’

The news comes as a setback to Pulse’s long-running Battling Burnout campaign to protect GP occupational health support services, and despite NHS England making a pledge to provide national high-quality occupational health support to GPs who need it after making a number of U-turns last year.

Earlier this month, the GPC moved to help struggling GPs by launching a 42-page guide to help GPs manage workload pressures and a recent Pulse survey showed that four in 10 GPs had taken time out for burnout in the previous 12 months or thought they would in the coming year.

The GMC has said it will introduce ‘emotional resilience’ training and a national support service for doctors, after an internal review found that 28 doctors died by suicide while under investigation by the regulator. Earlier this month, GMC executives warned doctors need resilience training ‘like soldiers in Afghanistan’.

Dr Sanford-Wood said: ‘I find myself torn between sadness at the likely loss of such a national beacon of excellence and anger at its wilful destruction by NHS England, particularly on the background of our workforce crisis, and in the very month when research was published showing doctors in performance procedures to have a 2000% increase in suicide risk.’

NHS England’s Devon, Cornwall and Isles of Scilly area team was approached for comment.