On the top of every cover of Pulse magazine you may have noticed the strapline ‘supporting GPs since 1960’. Today this is much more than a slogan.
After almost a year of Pulse highlighting the rising levels of stress across the profession, NHS England has finally listened. It has announced it will fund occupational health support for all GPs, ending the postcode lottery of provision that was the legacy of PCTs. This is a significant victory.
Managers had said last year that support would only be offered to GPs where concerns were raised over their performance, but – in what the GPC have called a ‘breakthrough’ for the profession – they have now promised to fund support for all GPs.
This is a welcome sign that NHS bosses are starting to get it. There is a real crisis of morale and workload in general practice and this is the first step to providing the safety net that will enable GPs to treat patients more effectively and safely.
Managers at NHS England themselves admit that our survey last year on the levels of burnout in the GP profession concentrated their minds. The survey of 1,800 GPs showed that as many as 43% were at very high risk of burnout. We also found almost one in ten GPs has taken time off work due to stress or burnout within the past 12 months and we highlighted data that showed the number of new doctors and dentists seeking help more than triple in the past four years.
This kickstarted our Battling Burnout campaign to rally the profession in urging NHS England to provide a comprehensive nationally funded service for GPs.
We enlisted support from the BMA, the RCGP, the National Association of Primary Care and the Family Doctor Association. We also sent a letter to NHS England petitioning them to change their minds on occupational health support for GPs, co-signed by more than 100 GPs, and urged you to write to your MP.
The national press started to take notice, putting even more pressure on managers to address the problem.
This has – alongside some clever negotiating from the GPC – led to the victory today, and I want to thank everyone who has supported our campaign. Unlike GPs, journalists have few chances to show meaningful change as a result of our work. But I can finally say that it was Pulse ‘wot won it’.
But there is much more to do. We must make sure the service that GPs are provided with is as ‘high quality’ as NHS England promises. Occupational health services can treat the symptoms of burnout, but we need NHS England to address the chronic lack of funding and plummeting morale of GPs that worsen the problem.
Practices will still have to pay if one of their staff requires occupational health support, such as a practice nurse or practice manager – this is not good enough. We will also be urging NHS England to improve its monitoring of GP workload, so that it can respond more effectively to the problem.
The battle has been won, but the war against GP burnout continues.