Four in five doctors know colleagues facing depression or anxiety

More than four out of five doctors know of colleagues experiencing depression, anxiety or other mental health issues, according to a survey that reveals soaring pressure on NHS staff.

A total of 82% of doctors said they knew of other doctors facing issues including depression and anxiety, the survey of of 1,351 consultants, GPs and others by the Royal Medical Benevolent Fund (RMBF) revealed.

The poll, commissioned as part of the RMBF's 'What's up doc?' campaign to raise awareness of the need for better support for doctors working in increasingly tough circumstances in the NHS, found that two thirds of doctors do not believe the health service offers them enough support.

Meanwhile, despite high rates of mental health issues among doctors, the poll found that many felt unable to seek help. Fear of discrimination or stigma meant 84% of doctors said they were unlikely to seek help with mental health issues, while 66% were inhibited from asking for support by their ‘high achieving personality traits’.

GPs under pressure

RMBF chair Professor Roger Jones - a professor of general practice at King's College London - told GPonlinethat the survey's finding that 82% of doctors know of colleagues facing mental health issues was a 'dreadful figure'.

'There is a general recognition that people in general practice and hospital medicine are finding life more and more difficult, with increasing workload, patient demand, a changing culture in the NHS and rising bureaucracy,' he said.

Last year, a BMA poll of thousands of GPs found that one in three could quit the profession within three years because of rising pressure.

NHS England is currently 'scoping out' plans for a service to help GPs facing stress and burnout and hopes to launch the support scheme during 2016.

Support for GPs

But Professor Jones said that current support for doctors was 'patchy' across England. 'The funding that used to go to strategic health authorities has been withdrawn, and occupational health services for doctors are not what they used to be,' he said. 'There are proposals for a service for GPs but we haven’t seen that yet.

'Lots of doctors are clearly very stressed. Problems getting people into GP training programmes, people retiring early, complexity of work with people living longer with long-term conditions - all these factors create a tremendous amount of pressure. It's not helped by anxiety about CQC inspections, revalidation and so on.'

Professor Jones said the demands of the health service had changed beyond recognition since he qualified as a GP, and the NHS had not kept pace with the support doctors working in it needed. He suspected that many of the mental health issues doctors were aware of in their colleages were 'relatively undisclosed'. He added: 'The problem is doctors don’t seek help - doctors are supposed to be bulletproof.'

The 'What's up doc' campaign aims to press for better services for sick doctors, and to raise awareness of how to recognise the early signs of stress.

The RMBF, Professor Jones said, offers support to all doctors in distress. 'There are facilities available - financial and other support is available. We want to highlight this and make clear it is available to all doctors in distress.'

But he said that the NHS needed to create a national service that was 'accessible and non-stigmatising', to help doctors address concerns early on.

'The point is sick doctors are not safe and will not provide safe care for patients,' he said.

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