GP occupational health scheme to be rolled out across England from 2016

A nationally-specified occupational health service for GPs will be set up across England from 2016 to tackle rising levels of burnout and stress in the profession.

Simon Stevens: occupational health service for GPs
Simon Stevens: occupational health service for GPs

Every CCG in the country will be ordered by NHS England to set up a scheme from 1 April 2016 in line with a nationally agreed specification being drawn up in consultation with the GPC and RCGP.

GP leaders backed the move, but warned the profession would remain in crisis until the underlying problem with underfunding of primary care was addressed.

The occupational health plans are part of an NHS England drive to improve the health of NHS staff, which will make it easier for them to access health checks, healthy food and services for weight management and smoking cessation.

GP burnout

Plans for a GP occupational health service follow dire warnings about rising stress and burnout among GPs, with a landmark BMA poll earlier this year showing that one in six GPs face unmanageable stress.

The GP occupational health service model will draw heavily on succesful schemes such as the London Practitioner Health Programme (PHP), set up by former RCGP chairwoman Dr Clare Gerada.

GPs for several years have been demanding the national roll-out of support similar to the London scheme - which narrowly escaped being closed down in 2010 after DH pilot funding stopped.

The scheme is a 'confidential, NHS treatment service for doctors and dentists who are unable to access confidential care through mainstream NHS routes due to the nature of their role and/or health condition'. It has treated more than 1,600 patients, who have the right to demand that their status as a practitioner/patient is known only to themselves and PHP.

NHS England's scheme will also draw on House Concern, a service in the northern NHS region, and the Somerset Clinician Support Service.

Pressure on GPs

GPC deputy chairman Dr Richard Vautrey said plans for a national service were 'a welcome sign that NHS England is starting to recognise the pressures GPs and practices are under'. But he warned: 'They now need to start fixing the underlying problem, rather than waiting until GPs reach crisis point, and for that we need a significant long-term funding increase to core practice funding.'

NHS England chief executive Simon Stevens said: 'At a time when the pressures on GPs have never been greater, we need to extend the local practitioner health programmes that have been shown to help GPs stay healthy and get back to work when sick.'

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