Dear Professor Grant,
We are writing to you regarding NHS England’s recent announcement that it plans to remove all central funding for occupational health support for GPs unless there are formal concerns about their performance. The decision, which as you will be aware follows NHS England’s review of the patchy services currently provided around the country, comes as a real blow to a profession already struggling to cope.
Pulse’s Battling Burnout campaign over the past year has established beyond doubt that many GPs are suffering from stress and exhaustion. Our assessment of almost 1,800 GPs using the validated Maslach Burnout Inventory tool back in June found as many as 43% GPs were at very high risk of burnout1 – a finding echoing research published in BMJ Open which found 46% of a sample of GPs in Essex fitted the criteria for emotional exhaustion2.
A separate multi-topic Pulse survey last year found one in 11 GPs has taken time off work due to stress or burnout within the past 12 months. The Practitioner Health Programme, the largest service in Europe for doctors with health concerns, has seen the number of new doctors and dentists seeking help more than triple in the past four years3. Even the Government has acknowledged there is a problem, with health minister Earl Howe warning last September that ‘there are people so stressed out that they are leaving the profession’4.
Seen in this context, the decision not to routinely fund occupational health support for GPs – and to scrap such funding where it already exists – seems bafflingly short-sighted. Given the cost of training a GP, and the current ongoing recruitment crisis, it cannot be cost-effective for the NHS as a whole to risk losing experienced doctors who with the right support offered in a timely, pre-emptive fashion might be retained.
The decision also sends a bleak message to GPs who in many cases have given the best years of their lives to the health service they love. We talk of a ‘military covenant’, acknowledging the duty of care the nation has to its servicemen. There is perhaps an argument that a similar principle should apply in the NHS – that we should have a ‘medical covenant’ whereby the health service guarantees it will take care of its own.
Pulse’s Battling Burnout campaign was launched last April at the Pulse Live conference, where you were a keynote speaker, and you will be aware from your appearance there how strongly GPs feel about this issue and the extent to which it is linked to the morale of the profession as a whole. We would ask you to ensure NHS England reconsiders this unwise decision, and instead offers to fund occupational health support for all GPs who need it – on the grounds that doing so is both cost-effective for the NHS in the long term, and the right thing to do.
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*UPDATE 28/1/14* This letter is now closed. We will post a response when we get one.