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Senior GPs suffer work-related ill health, finds study

Older doctors working in the NHS need support to avoid developing ill health at the later stages of their career, a study has found.

The research, published in the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine, also found that GPs were more likely to suffer work-related ill health than hospital doctors.

The researchers, from the UK Medical Careers Research Group at Oxford University’s Nuffield Department of Population Health, sent out questionnaires in 2014 to all medical graduates of 1974 and 1977. They achieved a response rate of almost 85%, with 3,695 doctors responding.

When asked if they felt that ‘working as a doctor has had any adverse effects on your own health or wellbeing’, 44% of doctors answered ‘yes’.

The proportion responding yes to the question was 47% among GPs and 42% among hospital doctors.

Out of those doctors who said they did see adverse effects, three-quarters cited ‘stress/work–life balance/workload’ as a reason, while 45% mentioned illness.

The researchers also looked at whether respondents found the NHS to be a good employer when doctors become ill themselves, finding that only just over a quarter (28%) agreed this was the case. Some 43% disagreed and the remainder neither agreed nor disagreed.

Again GPs tended to have the more negative outlook, with around half (49%) of GPs experiencing that NHS was not a good employer at these times compared to only just over a third (37%) of hospital doctors.

The paper said: ‘Stress, burnout and vulnerability to ill health are commonplace among doctors. These conditions are compounded by an unwillingness to take time off from work when needed, a tendency to self-prescribe and a reluctance to see a GP.

The researchers said that in the UK ‘there has been an increase in self-referrals for mental health issues and recorded sickness levels are under-reported when compared to self-reported measures’ but that ‘much of the focus has been upon medical students and junior doctors’.

They added: ‘However, studies which have included more senior doctors have also found rising levels of stress and ill health, a perceived lack of cover when ill creating a pressure to stay at work and poor levels of support for doctors with chronic illness.’

The researchers concluded that their research showed that there were ‘lessons for the present and future if the NHS is to ensure that its medical workforce receives the support which enables current doctors to enjoy a full and satisfying career and to contribute fully to health service provision in the UK’.

They said: ‘Older doctors, in particular, need support to be able to continue successfully in their careers.’