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GP working hours decreased before pandemic hit, finds official workload audit


GP moral distress


A Government-commissioned survey has said that GPs were working on average two hours per week less in 2019 than two years before.

The 10th biennial GP Worklife Survey, conducted between November 2019 and March 2020, garnered responses from 1,332 GPs across England.

The national survey is commissioned by the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC), funded by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) and informs the DHSC’s evidence to the Doctors’ and Dentists’ Pay Review Body.

The 2019 results, published today, claims that GP working hours decreased ‘significantly’ for the first time in almost 15 years.

On average, respondents reported working 40 hours per week on both clinical and non-clinical NHS work in 2019 compared with 41.8 hours per week in 2017.

The report said this was ‘statistically significant’ and a ‘notable change given there has been virtually no change in the average weekly hours worked between 2005 and 2017’.

However, a major survey conducted by Pulse this year showed that this is no longer the case.

It revealed that GPs are now working 11-hour days, with over half GPs saying consultation time is now ‘significantly’ (24%) or ‘slightly’ (31%) longer than before the pandemic.

Liverpool LMC medical director Dr Rob Barnett told Pulse that ‘workload has increased, certainly during the pandemic’.

He said: ‘The number of hours GPs are working will have increased, not decreased. 

‘What I pick up anecdotally is that people are struggling to get home at a sensible time [and] a surgery session of three and a half hours invariably goes to four and a half to five hours.’

He added: ‘It’s ludicrous to say that the average GP is working 40 hours because hidden within that will be some GPs who might only be working 20 hours a week and some who might be working 60 or 70 hours a week.’

Meanwhile, the 2019 GP Worklife Survey also showed that intentions to quit were at their highest ever levels among GPs over 50.

Almost half (49%) of GPs aged 50 or over reported a ‘high’ likelihood of leaving direct patient care within the next five years, while 13.5% said the likelihood was ‘considerable’.

The report said that the percentage of GPs over 50 who expressed a considerable/high intention to quit was ‘higher in 2019 compared to all previous surveys’ – with the first running in 1999.

However, the percentage of GPs under the age of 50 expressing a coniderable or high intention to quit decreased from 13.5% in 2017 to 11% in 2019, with 44.5% saying there was ‘no chance’ they would leave within the next five years.

GP and professor of health policy and primary care at the University of Manchester Professor Kath Checkland, who led the study, said: ‘The high levels of GPs planning to leave patient care even before the pandemic hit is very concerning. 

‘We are now carrying out a further round of the survey to try to capture changes in job satisfaction driven by the pandemic. It is really important that we get as many responses as possible, and I would encourage all GPs receiving a link to the survey to respond, so that we get as complete a picture as possible.’

Dr Samira Anane, BMA GP committee workforce policy lead, said the figures on GP intentions to leave the profession are ‘alarming’ but will ‘certainly not come as a  surprise to many GPs’.

She said: ‘This desire is largely driven by unsustainable workload and the impact this has on doctors’ own wellbeing. 

‘GPs desperately need support from Government and policymakers as they face the most challenging time of their careers – with, as this study suggests, even younger doctors being pushed to the brink.’

She added: ‘This research was carried out before the pandemic,  and it is likely that the experiences that GPs have gone through over the last year has changed their outlook further.’

The previous GP Worklife Survey, conducted in 2017, found that one in five GPs were working more than 60 hours per week as the number of those looking to quit direct patient care continued to rise.

READERS' COMMENTS [8]

John Graham Munro 10 June, 2021 1:05 am

Didn’t feel like it to me

Michael Mullineux 10 June, 2021 9:47 am

So a survey from 2019 of 4.7% of FTE GP’s in England demonstrating an average 108 minute weekly reduction is significant how exactly? Is it used to support HMG and Daily mail contentions that GP’s are increasingly workshy with doors closed? Is it a reflection of more GP’s working to rule and not putting in those extra hours after years of shafting? Or is it just a reflection of a pathetically small sample size that is wholly unrepresentative of what was really happening 18 months ago?

Turn out The Lights 10 June, 2021 10:18 am

Time to work to rule do not give them free labour.

Patrufini Duffy 10 June, 2021 11:49 am

If you’ve done your work leave.
Do not fill it with unpaid for tasks and good will. Boris meets Biden to confirm the transatlantic health treaty.

Grant Jonathan Ingrams 10 June, 2021 2:11 pm

There are two very pertinent factors that need to be taken into accoount.

First the percentage of GPs working part time has been on the increase over many years. GMC survey in 2019 found 45% of GPs were working part time. So if GPs on average are working 40 hours, and 45% are working part time, the number of hours worked by a full time GP is …

Second is that although the number of hours available for work has decreased over the years, the number of hours actually worked within those hours (ie intensity) and the rate of work have both increased.

David Church 10 June, 2021 8:19 pm

Since full-time hours for a GP is 26 hours per week, if the average GP is working 41 hours, that is approx 160% of FTE, which is a bit more what it felt like.
I WAS working ‘only 26 hours per week’ as FTE, and it occupied my time fully from before 0800 to after 1900 5 days a week, plus at least 3 evenings and a half-day every weekend on paperwork.
All that, and they say I was only doing one FTE!

Douglas Callow 10 June, 2021 10:24 pm

activity has never been counted or recorded properly 30% adrift of full number of encounters as a minimum

Anthony Gould 11 June, 2021 11:04 am

I’m fascinated by the idea of a 26 hour full time GP job which is a Unicorn
The trouble with statistics and bean counters is that they only count what they want and possibly ignore areas of workload. I suspect a political agenda in suggesting workload had gone down when for a GP partner workload seems infinite.
Are hourly paid locums skewing the figures and if so let’s all be paid hourly.