You may have seen the front page of the Sunday Times this week (in which – shameless boast – yours truly was quoted).
Most of the piece is fairly balanced, pointing out that a full-time job in general practice is simply not doable and cutting hours is pretty much the only course of action.
(When I spoke to the journalist, I stuck to my own advice to emphasise the only salient facts – that full-time equivalent GP numbers are going down at the same time as demand is increasing, and all else is noise, and I think a lot of the piece reflected this).
However, the opening line – obviously the most important one – was problematic: ‘Nearly a fifth of GPs work an average of only 26 hours a week as half of all patients struggle to get through to their family doctor, data suggests.’
I don’t think there is any other profession whose headline working hours are based on the 20% of people who are doing the least hours.
However, I also think that this neutralises pretty much the only argument that GPs themselves are to blame for waiting lists – which is that access is suffering because GPs are choosing to work less than full time.
There is no doubt that GPs are cutting hours, and mainly for good reasons. But – despite the increase of GPs doing ‘part-time hours’ – the average working week for GPs remains at around 40 hours, five hours longer than a traditional 9-5. And the 20% doing the least hours in the NHS still work a mere nine hours less than a normal full-time job.
Of course, even those who do work a pitiful (ahem) 26 hours in surgery often have other roles, many mandated by government (PCN leads, commissioning roles, LMC work, etc), or are looking after families.
Harking back to the days when GPs did work longer hours also ignores how intense the work is now, where any error in the churn of ten-minute appointments can lead to patient harm (and the end of a career too). In the good old days, a GP might work longer, but with the lower demand and with less jeopardy, there wasn’t the same level of burnout.
Which is all to say that part-time GPs are not really part time. And even calling them ‘less than full time’ doesn’t fully convey the actual hours they do, and the work they get through.
I think a lot of professions – my own included – would struggle with the hours worked by ‘part-time’ GPs.