Being a GP has always been a stressful and demanding job, but perhaps more so now than ever. Pressure to cut costs, the ongoing pay freeze and a seemingly ever-increasing and more complex workload are all taking their toll. Recent research in the BMJ, based on interviews with 500 GPs in Essex, found that 46% were 'emotionally exhausted'.
GPs in London can self refer to the Practitioner Health Programme (PHP), a confidential service for doctors and dentists suffering from mental health and addiction problems. As GP reports this week, the PHP has delivered impressive results in its first three years. Some 77% of those seen by the programme have been able to either stay in work or go back to work after treatment.
The scheme cost London PCTs £1m in total, but one medical director estimates it has saved his PCT alone half of that sum.
Doctors outside London can only access the programme via a GP referral and on a cost-by-case basis. This will clearly discourage many from seeking help. Other PCTs should follow London's lead and commission services to support GPs.
The 2009 Boorman review into the health of NHS staff recommended, among other things, early interventions for staff with mental health problems. The review estimated that improving staff health and wellbeing could save the NHS up to £555m a year - a sum that could go some way to meeting the current £20bn efficiency target.
The PHP, which was set up in response to the Boorman review, shows such savings are achievable. Being a GP, or indeed providing any frontline healthcare, presents many unique challenges, and the NHS needs to recognise this and support individuals. Investing in the workforce's health also makes long-term financial sense.