Chris Lancelot: GPs' burnout statistics are making for shocking reading

The recent report suggesting that 46% of GPs show symptoms of burnout has come as a shock, both because of the size of the problem and the fact that burnout is more prevalent in doctors in larger partnerships.

At first sight this seems counterintuitive – but then one is never so alone as in a crowd. Far from giving greater peer support, large practices often contain many part-time and jobsharing clinicians; even full-time partners can go from one week to the next without seeing another doctor.

But the real shock concerns the huge numbers of doctors who are affected. What can be done to help? As we all know, the cure for burnout involves three things: put firm boundaries on time spent at work, introduce variety into the working day and share responsibility.

By contrast, the DH and the government constantly try to get us to work harder and longer - through extended surgeries, by forcing us to take on secondary care activities and by making us work a further eight years before we can draw our pensions.

They also want us to amalgamate into larger practices. If their aim was to burn us out even more thoroughly, they couldn't do a better job.

This report is solid confirmation of what I have been saying for years: the way GPs are expected to work is wrong in principle and urgently needs changing.

Yes, ultimately burnout is the problem of the individual sufferer, and its solution is a change in their behaviour, but those who organise the NHS need to recognise the level of stress in their employees and coworkers, and help them put in place protective and coping strategies.

These would include limiting our working day and streamlining NHS infrastructure in order to simplify and lighten our load.

But it won't happen. Very conveniently for the government, GPs are third party private contractors. As far as the DH is concerned, this situation is Not Its Responsibility. Indeed, the department's way of 'helping' will probably be to give practices the additional duty of performing annual checks for burnout on all their clinicians, as part of the appraisal process.

But more helpful alternatives are available – more next week.

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