Around one in every six GPs (17%) give their personal mobile number to patients, while a further 8% would ‘consider’ doing so in the future, a GPonline poll of 315 GPs suggests.
The majority - three quarters (75%) - say they would not be prepared to hand out their number to any of their patients.
Many of the GPs who said they do give out their mobile number reported that this was done 'as an exception' for patients receiving end-of-life or palliative care, usually amounting to a handful of cases a year, or once every few months.
But several said they were more liberal in sharing their contact information. One GP said their mobile number was left on the practice’s answerphone message, ‘so it is probably known to a number of patients’.
Another said they felt it was an unavoidable consequence of working part time. They said: ‘Occasionally, for example twice today, I have done so when I need to speak to someone and due to working part time have not managed to get hold of them on days at work.’
Some GPs were strongly opposed to the idea of sharing their mobile phone number. One said it was ‘a grossly inappropriate and unprofessional idea’, adding that 'this risks blurring the lines between the doctor’s personal and public life, and does not help the already strained work/life balance’.
It comes after leading London GP Dr Sam Everington, chair of Tower Hamlets CCG, revealed he often provides ‘terminally or very, very ill’ patients with his personal number – something he argued should ‘become the norm in the NHS’.
‘We need this to happen in the NHS, it’s about a change in mind set,’ he said earlier this year. ‘Ironically, if I give that number to my patient, it’s far less work for me... The answer is to let go and you will find not only will the patient’s life be much better, but so will yours.’
He added that this had allowed him to receive calls from and talk through test results with patients while he was on holiday in Scotland.
But one respondent GP argued that the ‘days have gone’ when patients should expect GPs to be accessible for emergency callouts day and night.
‘I feel it is important for patients to have easy access to their GP,’ the respondent said. ‘[But] I have a life and family outside of medicine too, and cannot be expected to be available 24/7.’
Another added that giving out personal phone numbers was open to abuse and GPs ‘need to set boundaries between work and home life’.
One GP said they had given out their number on a handful of occasions, and it had been abused ‘every time’ by patients and their family members long after doing so, ‘sometimes several years later’.
Several GPs who said they did not share their number with patients revealed that they had done so in the past, but could no longer commit to doing so because their already ‘unsustainable’ workloads were pushing them to ‘breaking point’.
GPC deputy chairman Dr Richard Vautrey said the numbers were in line with ‘what I would expect’.
‘The tradition in the past was that GPs would give their personal contact details out to a very small number of patients, particularly end-of-life patients so they could be contacted in terms of palliative care situations,’ he said.
‘The use of mobile phones makes that easier. But, clearly, many doctors are working differently from traditional ways now, and in many cases it may be better for patients to contact the practice or out-of-hours services in case their GP is not in the area.
‘It’s very much up to the individual doctor to make that decision on whether to provide their number to patients.’