GPs call for national roll-out of mentoring support for general practice

GPs in the Midlands are calling for the national roll-out of mentoring support for general practice, after setting up a service locally to tackle falling morale and recruitment problems.

The GP-S scheme, ‘run for GPs by GPs’, offers primary care doctors across Nottingham, Derbyshire and Lincolnshire access to a free, confidential mentoring and signposting service, and now plans to broaden support to include the wider primary care team.

Around 90 GPs have received support through the service, ranging from careers advice to mentoring, peer support, resilience training and ‘signposting’ to resources to support wellbeing.

The service has offered support to some doctors with health problems, but does not overlap with support available from the national GP Health Service launched last month, which offers confidential support for doctors experiencing burnout, depression, addiction and other serious mental health issues.

GP peer support

One of the scheme’s lead mentors, Dr Anjla Sharman, told GPonline: ‘We want to be there to help doctors in crisis, but really we want to help people before they get to that point, before they go off sick. We are not providing medical input - the service is more about peer support, and can be as simple as careers advice - so hopefully this is complementary to the GP Health Service.’

The idea for GP-S came about when GP appraisers, tutors and LMC leaders picked up growing unhappiness among the local GP workforce starting around the summer of 2014, Dr Sharman explained.

‘We were picking up these soft concerns through the appraisal system. We had a summer where everyone seemed to be retiring early, going off sick, or going abroad. We felt the workforce was unhappy. GPs were self-referrring to local IAPT services, and that had been flagged.’

A poll sent to GPs across Nottinghamshire received 100 responses, with 73 respondents reporting mood levels of five out of 10 or below - indicating neutral feelings at best, while 32 reported mood levels of three or below - indicating that they were either not at all or not very happy.

GP morale

Workload, patient demand and the negative portrayal of GPs in the media were highlighted as key factors driving low mood.

GP-S then secured start-up funding from Health Education East Midlands (HEEM) and the local area team, and with support from Gordon French, an HEEM advisor, recruited 10 mentors and launched in July 2015. A further 12 mentors have been brought on board since then.

‘Appraisal is the only time when doctors have a one-to-one with one of their peers,’ said Dr Sharman. ‘So we very much targeted the appraisal system to make sure they are aware of the service.’

GP-S has run training events with local appraisers, visited ‘first 5’ events - for doctors in their first years as a GP - and raised awareness of its service through RCGP, CCG and LMC communications.

GP training

Doctors who have just completed GP specialty training and are ‘not sure what to do next’ are a growing proportion of users of the service, which initially attracted primarily partners.

Dr Sharman added that the kinds of help people sought from the service ‘could be anything’.

‘It can be someone saying I’m not sure I want to stay in this job, or just off a training programme and doesn’t know what their next step is. It could be someone stressed, or off sick or considering going off sick. It could be someone going through a divorce.

‘GPs are very good at looking after everyone else, but we are bad at looking after ourselves. People have to make their own decisions - we can’t tell them what to do - but we are giving them space to do that. If you are already working a 12-hour day, it can be very difficult to find time to do GP-S - we are asking GPs to prioritise themselves.

‘Our mentors are very flexible and will try to find a time and place to suit the doctors. People appreciate the fact that the service is free. People value that, and the fact it is run by local GPs.’

The service is now expanding geographically and looking to broaden its offer to cover the whole practice team, with practice nurse and practice manager mentors.

Dr Sharman said it could help make general practice more sustainable, and provide an avenue for encouraging younger doctors to consider taking up partnerships as well as considering locum careers. Although many areas had mentoring schemes that operated informally, she said few had the administrative back-up to offer a more comprehensive service.

‘I would really like this to be rolling out across the area and the country,’ she said. ‘I would really ask that local organisations across the country see the value of mentoring and looking after their workforce - there is lots of evidence to show that if you have happy staff you get more from them.

‘I would also like to thank the organisations that have helped get us to where we are now - their budgets are being squeezed and we really value what they have put in. We are very lucky in our patch that we have this.’

  • GPs in Nottinghamshire, Derbyshire or Lincolnshire who would like to access free, confidential mentoring or to find out more about GP-S can contact the service by telephone at 0115 979 6917, or click here to visit its website

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