BMA condemns 'crude' criticism of GPs over working hours

The BMA has condemned 'crude' criticism of GPs working 'part time' - warning that general practice will lose more talented clinicians unless negative stereotypes about flexible working are dispelled.

BMA (Photo: JH Lancy)

Media critics are calling for GPs to work a minimum number of hours a week to repay training costs - despite medical students paying tens of thousands of pounds in tuition fees. The latest criticism of GPs comes after sustained attacks over access to face-to-face appointments.

BMA GP committee chair Dr Richard Vautrey has hit back at criticism, arguing that many GPs technically employed less than full-time work ‘well beyond’ their hours, while some split their time between numerous NHS roles.

The Leeds GP also urged people to get away from the idea that working flexibly was a ‘bad thing’, warning that an unwillingness to embrace part-time working could make access and workload problems ‘a lot worse’.

GP working patterns

Reports on GPs’ working hours come just days after the GMC’s acting chair warned that the COVID pandemic had struck a ‘hammer blow’ to the already-fragile wellbeing of medical professionals.

Dr Vautrey said: ‘The very notion of a “part-time” GP is often anything but. The data actually show that the average hours worked by a GP in England is around 40 hours per week – the same as most full-time jobs.

‘To focus purely on "sessions" is an incredibly crude measure. In reality, the sheer scale of workload means that both a morning session and an afternoon session often extend well beyond this, which means many GPs in reality work 10 to 12-hour days.

‘GPs who work fewer sessions or hours in practices may well be dedicating time elsewhere in the NHS and wider health system – for example training younger doctors and medical students, working in hospitals or conducting research to ensure better healthcare in the future.’

NHS bureaucracy

Dr Vautrey added that current workload levels were ‘not sustainable’ and were being made worse by ‘piles of admin and bureaucracy’. He argued that GPs would be able to devote more time to patients if this issue was removed.

The Leeds GP also said that opinions around flexible working had to change for the good of the future workforce amid rising pressure on GPs. ‘We should also get away from the idea that working flexibly in itself is a bad thing,' he said.

‘There are more women than men working as GPs today, and the fact that general practice offers flexibility that allows people of all backgrounds to balance their GP work with other commitments, such as family and caring responsibilities, should be celebrated and not condemned.

‘Without embracing this, we risk losing these talented clinicians all together and therefore making access and workload problems a lot worse,’ he said.

A BMA report published in July highlighted 'a clear trend towards salaried and sessional GP roles and more portfolio and less than full-time working' - warning the profession needed 'nearly three salaried and sessional GPs (headcount) to replace the hours of one GP partner between March 2020 to March 2021'.

GPonline reported earlier this year that FTE partners dropped by more than 3% in the year to June 2021 - leaving the total around 12% down compared with three years earlier.

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