Free coaching helping GPs to manage pandemic stress

Specialised coaching support offered to practices during the COVID-19 pandemic has been found to improve the wellbeing and capabilities of GPs and their teams.

GP coaching (Photo: Oscar Wong/Getty Images)

A study by the Institute for Employment Studies (IES) has found that NHS England's 'Looking After You Too' coaching scheme was ‘effective in improving short-term perceived wellbeing and resilience’ in GPs and other primary care staff.

The coaching was introduced at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 as NHS England attempted to help teams manage new situations and deal with the added pressure.

Observing a sample of 662 primary care staff, half of whom were GPs, the study looked at changes in perceived positive psychological wellbeing and resilience and measured them using the Short Warwick–Edinburgh Mental Wellbeing Scale (SWEMWBS) and Brief Resilience Coping Scale (BRCS).

GP wellbeing

With a possible score range of 7-35 and higher scores reflecting positive wellbeing, the SWEMWBS scores had ‘significantly improved’ from a pre-coaching score of 19.63, to a post-coaching score of 24.02.

With a possible score range of 4-20, the study's BRCS scores also saw an increase from 12.73 to 15.07 after coaching.

During follow-up assessments, average wellbeing scores were 21.2, showing some coaching benefits were sustained. Receiving multiple sessions also proved to increase the overall impact on staff. 

These results come as the profession is under intense pressure with workload and workforce shortages throughout the NHS. Figures show that around 5,000 GPs affected by surging pressures were seeking help from the NHSPS from March 2020 to April 2021. 

Primary care staff

Dr Amit Bharkhada is a GP partner in East Leicestershire, covering over 12,000 patients. His practice had set up 'meeting points' for practice leaders to discuss practice needs and explore ways to improve staff support and relationship building.

In conjunction with the impact of COVID-19, Dr Bharkhada approached the coaching service with the aim of improving the outcomes of the meetings.

Dr Bharkhada has since recommended the ‘Looking After You Too’ coaching to other primary care staff. 

He said: ‘Sometimes it can be a real strength talking about your vulnerabilities to other people… you become more rounded, and this can help the practice run well and more efficiently, improve patient care and the organisation.’

‘You are not taught these types of things in medical school’ he added.

Principal research fellow at the IES Dr Alison Carter said the coaching was an intervention that had worked at a time of great pressure on the NHS:

‘This was felt in primary care in trying to re-assure patients about the transmission and contracting of Covid-19 whilst being uncertain about it themselves. Added layers of challenge were: strain on remaining staff members where practices were experiencing high sickness due to COVID; stepping into more visible leadership roles or taking on a particular Practice responsibility during COVID, at short notice;  and disruption from juggling work with home-schooling during lockdowns.

‘More recently, especially among GPs, feeling like you are working all hours, but just can’t quite fit everything in is an issue. It is tough not feeling as productive as you think you should be.’

Find out more about the 'Looking After You Too' coaching.

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