Measures to tackle GP workload could cause long-term problems

GPs need clearer advice on how to manage workload to help them avoid strategies that will make the situation worse, GP researchers have warned.

GP waiting room (Photo: JH Lancy)
GP waiting room (Photo: JH Lancy)

GPs are 'proactively attempting to manage workload' using various strategies, but a lack of clear evidence on how best to do so could limit their success, according to University of Oxford researchers.

The findings were laid out in two studies published in the British Journal of General Practice (BJGP) analysing GPs’ perception of workload and strategies for them to cope with this.

They warned that some methods adopted by GPs – such as reducing sessions or using telephone triage – ‘carry the potential to worsen workload in the longer term’.

The most common personal strategy for managing workload among respondents was reducing sessions, a trend the study described as ‘concerning’ when seen in the context of rising patient demand and a falling GP workforce.

Alternative techniques of cutting workload, such as role delegation and better use of digital health, are more likely to have a long-lasting positive effect on workload, they suggested.

The studies were based on interviews with 37 GPs from across England. Participants were selected from 171 who responded to advertisements circulated via regional GP email lists and national social media networks.

GP workload

It comes as recent surveys found that two thirds of GPs describe their workload as ‘unmanageable’ or ‘unsustainable’, with up to 60% considering early retirement.

All of the respondents acknowledged that workload was an issue in general practice, even if they were not personally dissatisfied with their own working life.

They reported that workloads had increased in intensity and become work days had become longer, stretching from 10 to 14 hours – with additional administrative work leaking over into evenings and weekends.

They warned that these ‘unsustainable workloads’ were putting the wellbeing of GPs and patients at risk, and making full-time partnerships less feasible.

The researchers said: ‘Increased part-time working and portfolio careers are becoming increasingly common and policies for primary care need to embrace this. Without more GPs, this will further increase pressures.

‘Effectively introducing allied health professionals requires research to ensure this strategy does not compromise patient care, and to better understand how to maximise utility of these roles.

‘The present work suggests that GPs are proactively seeking to manage workload in the face of little conclusive evidence as to how best to achieve this. A stronger evidence base is urgently required to drive policy promises into practical change.’

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