Exclusive: Three GPs a day seeking help for burnout, official data show

Almost 1,000 GPs self-referred themselves to the GP Health Service - set up to help GPs experiencing stress or burnout - in the first 10 months after it launched, GPonline can reveal.

GP Health Service: doctors seeking help (Photo: JH Lancy)
GP Health Service: doctors seeking help (Photo: JH Lancy)

Figures up to the end of November show that 981 GPs referred themselves to the service following its launch 10 months earlier on 30 January 2017.

Covering a period of just over 300 days, this means more than three GPs contacted the service every day on average.

It offers free, confidential support to GPs across England seeking help with burnout, depression, addiction and other mental health conditions.

The GP Health Service told GPonline it had identified four common themes in reasons why GPs were likely to come to the service for help.

Chief executive Lucy Warner said ‘practice meltdown’ came at the top of the list, with high numbers of self-referrals coming from GPs struggling to cope working in practices with long-term vacancies or absences.

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Many more are seeking help following significant events that are pushing GPs with long-term struggles over the edge, she said. These events include CQC inspections and receiving an official complaint.

Another common trend was GPs self-referring onto the scheme after discovering a mistake had occurred following a long period struggling with their mental wellbeing or experiencing depression.

She also warned that a lot of younger GPs were seeking help from the service after feeling a sense of ‘too much, too soon’ – where the stresses of workload and pressures of the system affect their mental wellbeing.

Former RCGP chair Dr Clare Gerada, who is medical director of the service, has previously said GPs must put their own health ahead of patients to help avoid burnout.

GPC chairman Dr Richard Vautrey said: ‘I think it’s self-evident that if you are under increasing workload pressure then you yourself are more likely to be become ill as a result – and that is what is happening.

‘We’re seeing GPs trying to go the extra mile and cover the workload gaps that are left behind and that’s putting huge pressures on the individuals who are trying to do that.

‘The large number of doctors who have used this new and valuable service is a sign that the situation with GP burnout has to be taken seriously and we have to address the underlying causes, which is the recruitment and retention crisis, the workload pressures and underfunding of general practice.’

Mental health

He added that it was concerning that some young doctors were finding it difficult to cope. ‘It’s a sign of the baptism of fire that sometimes happens for young doctors,’ he said. ‘They're put in a situation that many experienced doctors would also struggle to cope with.

‘It goes back to the fundamental need to address workload pressure, ensure that they are at a level so that doctors can practice safely and are not putting themselves and their patients at risk.’

Ms Warner welcomed the fact that so many GPs were coming forward to seek help, but said it was unfortunate that so many were in a situation where they needed to.

She added: ‘Ultimately, our advice to doctors would be to look after themselves in order to be able to look after their patients.

‘If doctors cared for themselves and their colleagues and followed the same advice they would give to their patients they would seek help sooner. Doctors make excellent patients and excellent recoveries with the right support.’

How to access the NHS GP Health Service:
Telephone: 0300 0303 300
Email: gp.health@nhs.net
Online: gphealth.nhs.uk

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