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Workload survey: GPs can shout about workload all we like, but we need evidence

Dr Helen Stokes-Lampard – 3x2 – online

Dr Helen Stokes-Lampard – 3×2 – online

Our profession is ‘the bedrock of the NHS’. Those aren’t my words – although I have repeated them many a time.

Those are words straight out of the mouth of England’s health secretary, Matt Hancock.

Yet, we’re facing a tough time in general practice.

A 12-hour shift is now commonplace – in a recent day on-call in my own practice, I had more than 100 patient contacts when you take into account face-to-face and phone, and helping out colleagues in training with support and second opinions.

Our workload has become relentless, and as a result we’re seeing excellent, hard-working GPs – as well as other members of our practice team – burning out with the pressure, right around the UK.

Unlike hospitals, we don’t have the daily data showing our precise workload rising exponentially

We need more GPs. NHS England and Health Education England are doing a good job at boosting GP recruitment, and we now have more GPs in training than ever before, but we also need to do everything we can to keep our experienced and talented existing GPs in the profession.

Our workload needs to be addressed. It rose at least 16% over seven years – both in volume and complexity – according to research published in 2016.

And we spend way too much time dealing with time-consuming admin and bureaucracy, which is taking us away from frontline patient care.

That is one crux of the matter: unlike hospitals, we don’t have the daily data showing our precise workload rising exponentially on an annual basis. We can shout about it all we like, but decision-makers want to see the hard evidence.

Pulse’s survey will give a snapshot of the workload we’re facing in general practice right now and I’d encourage GPs to take part.

We are also now starting to get monthly data from NHS Digital about GP consultations, and the RCGP’s own Research and Surveillance Centre is embarking on an exciting project – a workload observatory – so that we will have the data that can authoritatively influence planning decisions at the highest level in future.

We’re still recruiting practices to take part in our workload observatory, so if you’re interested in signing up your practice, there is more information here.

NHS England’s long-term plan has some great aspirations that promise to benefit patients – and recognise the importance of GPs and our wider teams in ensuring the sustainability of the NHS for years to come.

But delivering the plan will need the comprehensive workforce challenges we currently face to be addressed.

We need the forthcoming workforce strategy to explore all possible options – and tackling workload to make the profession more attractive for future GPs, and more tenable for existing GPs, will be key.

Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard is RCGP chair