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More than a quarter of GPs work beyond safe hours every week

Exclusive More than one in four GPs work more than what is deemed safe limits on working hours every week, Pulse can reveal.

A survey of almost 1,200 GPs found that 27% were working more than 50 hours a week, with a further 13% working 45-50 hours.

The survey results, which come as Prime Minister Theresa May has said all GP practices should extend their opening from five to seven days, further showed that some 6% of GPs regularly work weeks of more than 60 hours.

It also comes as NHS England has acknowledged that GP burnout is rife, with a national mental health support service finally set to roll out later this month. Meanwhile, 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’.

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 should only work 48-hour weeks.

Although it does not apply to those who are self-employed, like GP partners, the directive is generally accepted as best practice for safe working.

The regulations also say employees should have 11 hours rest a day, a day off each week, a rest break and 5.6 weeks of paid leave each year.

But GPs surveyed said that they rarely if ever took breaks during the working day.

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.

GP leaders have warned that patient services ‘are at the point of breaking’ as doctors struggle to cope with demand amid rising costs, falling pay and a workforce recruitment crisis.

Many of the GPs surveyed by Pulse said that they often worked hours of unpaid overtime at weekends and evenings to tackle increasing volumes of paperwork. 

Dr Zishan Syed, a GP partner from Kent said: ‘Many organisations exploit GPs as a resource to do unpaid paperwork. This paperwork is lengthy and it takes literally hours to go through notes to fill in various forms. 

‘We are also seeing up to 50 patients daily in our daily clinics and many people still expect us to conduct a home visiting service on top of this, which is impossible.

He added that he would ‘not recommend anybody to seek general practice as a career’.

A GP from Lanarkshire who asked not to be named said: ‘Fifty hours a week is actually a decrease. I believe the increase in GP workload is due to two main factors – excessive and unconstrained patient demand, and dumping of work by hospitals, social work etc.’

Dr Sarah Jacques, a GP in East Sussex said that she had not had a lunch break for seven years whilst working as a GP partner at a suburban surgery in East Sussex with a list size of ‘about 9,000 and increasing’.

She said: ’I worked eight sessions a week doing general practice. I started before 8am and mostly was getting home between 9 and 10pm for the last year. I was working 10-hour days and then that quickly increased to 12 hour days. I turn 40 this year and I have a 4-year-old and 6-year-old that I never see.’

GPC chair Dr Chaand Nagpaul said: ‘GPs and their staff are working to the point where many are burning themselves out or suffering from unacceptable levels of stress. We need politicians to act on their promises and deliver a period of sustained, long-term investment in general practice that allows patients to receive safe, quality care.

‘The BMA has called for safe working limits for all GPs as part of its Urgent Prescription for General Practice and has put forward proposals to NHS England to enable this.’

A spokesperson for No 10 declined to comment on Pulse’s survey results.

Survey question in full

How many hours a week do you actually work?

0-45: 60% (711)

46-50: 13% (159)

51-60: 21% (249)

More than 60: 6% (70)

The survey was launched on 9 November 2016, collating responses using the SurveyMonkey tool. The 29 questions covered a wide range of GP topics, to avoid selection bias on one issue. A total of 1,189 GPs answered the question above.