Essex GP took his own life after struggling with 'incredibly pressurised' job

An Essex GP described as 'lovely and caring' took his own life last month after struggling with depression and an 'incredibly pressurised' working environment.

NHS GPs under pressure (Photo: Universal Images Group/Getty Images)
NHS GPs under pressure (Photo: Universal Images Group/Getty Images)

Dr Paolo Doria, one of four GP partners at Abbey Field Medical Centre in Colchester, died by suicide on Wednesday 22 January, an inquest found.

The 45-year-old GP had been reported missing on the day and was found dead after a search by friends and family, with support from Essex police.

Senior coroner Caroline Beasley-Murray said Dr Doria's wife had written a 'glowing' letter about her husband. But the coroner added: 'He had become depressed and his job was incredibly pressurised.'

Mental health

The death of the 45-year-old GP comes just four months after an inquiry into the death of London GP Dr Miles Christie found he took his own life after struggling with heavy workload and feeling unable to talk about his mental health.

The cases highlight growing fears over the impact of rising pressure on GPs - with a major BMA poll last year revealing that nine out of 10 GPs faced a high risk of burnout.

GPonline also reported last year on a sharp rise in doctors seeking help from the GP Health Service - a free, confidential service that offers support for doctors and dentists in England experiencing mental health or addiction issues.

Chief operating officer of North East Essex CCG Pam Green said: ‘Our sincere condolences go out to the doctor’s family, friends and work colleagues at this tragic time. We are working to support the practice staff during what is clearly a very difficult situation for all of them.'

GP workload

Former RCGP chair Professor Clare Gerada, medical director of the NHS Practitioner Health programme - which encompasses the GP Health Service - told GPonline that it was time to tackle excessive workload by limiting the amount of face-to-face time GPs were allowed to spend with patients.

Dr Gerada said: ‘We can implement all sorts of mindfulness programmes and measures to help GPs, but fundamentally the more contact you have with humans that are suffering the more likely you are to suffer yourself.

‘In respect of it being a patient safety issue, I think the GMC, CQC and NHS England should cap the maximum number of appointments, whilst maintaining their pay. They have to to reduce the amount of face-to-face contact GPs have in a week.

‘No amount of mindfulness is going to help a GP who is seeing 60 patients a day. But what we can do is start to address those systemic causes of distress that we know lead doctors to depression and burnout and those include mentally the workload.’

A statement from campaign group GP Survival said that every suicide should be regarded as ‘a failure of the medical system’. The group said that despite working in a health system that was 'fragile, understaffed, and overworked', doctors were routinely judged against 'superhuman standards'.

Seeking help

Chair of the BMA's representative body Dr Helena McKeown, said: 'Doctors are not invincible, and we know that working under current pressures in the NHS can be incredibly hard.

'It’s important that doctors look after their own wellbeing as well as their patients’ and feel safe to reach out whenever they are struggling - however small the issue might seem. Seeking help early can be very important.'

She also encouraged doctors or medical students worried about their wellbeing to make use of the BMA’s 24/7 confidential counselling and peer support services.

RCGP chair Professor Martin Marshall warned recently that many GPs were ‘leaving the profession earlier than planned’ after research found one in three UK doctors have high levels of burnout, with GPs among the specialties most at risk.

Figures from the Office for National Statistics show that 430 health professionals took their own lives between 2011 and 2015 - including 81 doctors.

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