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One in five GPs work more than 60 hours a week, finds official audit

One in five GPs are working more than 60 hours per week as the number of GPs looking to quit direct patient care is on the rise.

This is the finding of the National GP Worklife Survey, carried out by the University of Manchester on behalf of the Department of Health and Social Care.

The survey, which included 996 GPs in England, found that 20% are working 60+ hours every week – 12 hours more than is recommended by EU officials.

This comes after a Pulse survey of almost 1,200 UK GPs found found that 27% were working more than 50 hours a week, with a further 13% working 45-50 hours 18 months ago.

GP leaders said the findings are ‘incredibly worrying’ but unsurprising ‘given the intense pressures family doctors are facing’.

According to the survey, GPs work an average of 41.8 hours per week. A third work less than 40 hours per week,28% between 40-49 hours and 16% work between 50-59 hours each week.

The survey also found that:

  • The number of GPs who say they are likely to quit direct patient care within five years rose from 35% in 2015 to 39% in 2017.
  • For GPs over 50, 62% plan to quit patient care within five years, with the majority saying their departure was highly likely.
  • Nine in 10 GPs are experiencing considerable or high-pressure from ‘increasing workloads’.

RCGP chair Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard said: ‘It’s incredibly worrying to hear that so many GPs are thinking about leaving the profession within the next five years, but it certainly isn’t surprising, given the intense pressures family doctors are facing – something about which the College has long been raising concerns.

She added: ‘As this study shows, 20% of GPs are now working intensively for more than 60 hours a week.

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‘We’re trying to do more and more on less and less, and there is a limit beyond which we can no longer guarantee that we are practising safely.’

Professor Stokes-Lampard added that ‘more work is needed to retain existing GPs, who are as valuable to trainees as they are to their patients, in the profession and the key to this is to tackle workload in general practice’.

The RCGP launched a campaign last year to combat GP fatigue by encouraging GPs to take breaks, titled ‘A rested GP is a safer GP’.

Professor Kath Checkland, who led the study, said: ‘Our survey shows there has been little change in the satisfaction and stressor results between 2015 and 2017 survey, though 2015 were already at very high levels.

She added: ‘The all-time high figure of 39% of GPs who say they intend to quit within 5 years is particularly worrying in terms of the possible implications it might have on recruitment, retention and patient care.’

The news comes as Pulse revealed last week that one in six GPs were under were under so much pressure they had to stop giving consultations for ‘routine’ matters in the last year.

The National GP Worklife Survey is a national survey of GPs in England, which has been carried out nine times since 1999.

The European Working Time Directive

The European Working Time Directive, an EU initiative designed to prevent employers requiring their workforce to work excessively long hours, with implications for health and safety, states that people are only allowed to work 48-hour weeks.

Other regulations include:

  • 11 hours rest a day and a right to a day off each week
  • A right to a rest break if the working day is longer than six hours
  • 5.6 weeks paid leave each year.

The directive has applied to consultants and career grade staff since October 1998, and to junior doctors since 2004.