Damaging workload in general practice must stop, warns GP facing burnout

GP leaders have backed plans to promote safe working limits in general practice after hearing a moving speech from a colleague struggling with burnout.

Milton Keynes GP Dr Sian Whyte told the 2018 UK LMCs conference in Liverpool - after earlier speakers warned that the NHS was 'making GPs sick' - that she herself was 'one of those sick GPs'.

GPonline revealed earlier this year that more than 1,100 GPs had sought help from the GP Health Service - set up to support GPs facing burnout and stress - in the service's first year.

Dr Whyte apologised for the emotion in her voice as she told LMC representatives: 'I had my first burnout about eight years after becoming a partner. I had help, I sought advice, I paid a lot of money for private psychotherapy that the NHS couldn't afford.

Read more
Full coverage of the 2018 UK LMCs conference
Practical tips for dealing with burnout
How does the NHS GP Health Service work?
How can GPs access support if they are struggling to cope?

'And it wrung a few more years out of me. Last year I dropped down to 75% but now I look after more patients in less time for less money. Last year I lost a much-loved friend and local colleague who left behind two children and a husband to walk in front of the train to Euston.'

She told the conference that she had taken part in the BMA's resilience programme after hitting 'rock bottom' in January, and subscribed to the Headspace mindfulness service.

But she added: 'What really makes me angry is that I don't need to become more resilient - I need you, GPC, to change the environment in which I work so that I don't need to become more resilient.'

GP workload

The conference erupted with a standing ovation following Dr Whyte's comments, which came in a themed debate on GP workload.

Dr Sarah Morgan from Bro Taf also won strong applause for comments strongly critical of BMA guidance published ahead of the conference that set out draft plans to control workload.

Limiting the number of patients GPs could see and 'bouncing the rest to a hub' - as proposed in the guidance - would simply prolong the problems currently driving up GP workload to unsustainable levels, she warned.

'Can we stop patients deciding on who we see?' she asked the conference. 'Can we stop them driving our workload by what they think they need rather than what they really need - can the GPs take back control of what they see without fear of being complained about or sued or worse? We need to manage what we are doing. We need to stop telling patients they can be seen when they want to be and we need to take back control - it is that simple.'

Introducing the debate, Dr Matt Mayer told the conference that the aim of the GPC's workload guidance was 'to allow individual GPs and practices to assess their workload, determine what is safe for them and support them to say no'.

Patient demand

'It should not be the responsibility of practices to manage impossible workload,' he warned. 'GPs are contracted to meet the reasonable needs of their population in a manner to be determined by the practice.'

Practices should not be threatened with contract breach notices 'held over them like Damocles' sword' for trying to limit workload, he said - calling for the profession to draw a line and stand together to say that 'in the interests of ourselves and patient safety it must not be crossed'.

LMCs voted to agree the principles of the GPC workload guidance, to carry out further work to 'specify precise limits to workload' and deliver guidance for practices on implementing it.

Have you registered with us yet?

Register now to enjoy more articles and free email bulletins


Already registered?

Sign in

Follow Us: