Analysing the working patterns of 78 full-time GP partners in England, GPonline found they completed an average of 56.3 hours a week, 18.8 hours more than the standard 37.5-hour week required of full-time NHS employees.
A total of 60% of full-time partners reported working between 50-65 hours each week, while 12% of respondents said they spent above 70 hours at work.
A similar pattern of working long hours was recorded among part-time GP partners, whose average weekly working hours totalled 39.2 - 1.7 hours more than a standard 37.5-hour full-time working week.
GP working hours
Around 30% of the 76 part-time partners surveyed reported working 40 hours a week, while just over one in four said they worked 45 hours or more.
Among salaried GPs and locums, working hours were also well above the basic 37.5 hours. The figure for average weekly hours among full-time salaried GPs responding to the survey was 46.7, rising to 47.5 for full-time locums.
Part-time salaried GPs reported working 31.6 hours a week on average and part-time locums slightly less at 28.9 hours.
GP leaders say excessive workload has played a major part in the rapid fall of GP partner numbers in England in recent years. Last month GPonline reported that general practice was losing nearly 100 partners a month, with 3.6% drop from June 2018 to June 2019 alone.
One full-time GP partner who took part in the survey said balancing responsibilities, such as maintaining clinical work to cut back on locum costs and meeting the enhanced needs of the NHS, had created ‘an increasingly intolerable work-life balance’.
Another said the current workload placed on partners was like nothing they had witnessed previously. ‘I am an experienced and efficient GP yet the urgency, volume and complexity of work surpasses anything I have seen in the last 40 years,' the GP said. 'Employing a different skill mix just means increasing amounts of unsorted complex and unmanaged problems referred to GPs on top of their scheduled work.'
One full-time GP partner warned that heavy workload could leave patients at risk. The GP said: ‘It is far too intense; too many patients, not enough time, and dangerous at times. I'm frequently too tired to think straight or see patients safely.'
BMA GP committee executive team member Dr Krishna Kasaraneni said ‘excessive workloads’ had forced many GPs to drop out of partner roles, and that the decline was creating a ‘vicious cycle’.
GP partners lost
‘We have lost more than 1,000 full-time equivalent partners in the last year – and almost 800 in terms of headcount.
‘As the workforce gets smaller, those remaining are taking on more work, and sadly, that partners are working way beyond their contracted hours is not surprising at all. This is unsustainable and can take a serious toll on individual GPs’ health and wellbeing.’
Dr Kasaraneni was hopeful that the newly introduced primary care networks (PCNs) could help ease pressure on practices, but warned that 'more work must be done to support our experienced GP workforce if we are to retain their skills and ensure the future of the partnership model’.
Wessex LMCs Dr Nigel Watson, who led the recent review of GP partnerships, said: ‘Workload was the key issue we identified in the partnership review - this is because of the ageing population, more long-term conditions and greater complexity. Also for GP partners, there is more work in terms of less partners [to share the workload] and that requires more practice input.’
‘For the NHS to survive, we need a stable general practice, [with partners] given the time to deliver services. The government must implement the recommendations in the partnership review.’
The DHSC pointed out last month that the government was investing an extra £4.5bn a year in GP services by 2023/24 through the NHS long-term plan, and that GP trainee recruitment is at a record level. The government is also consulting on pension flexibilities in a bid to stop doctors reducing their working hours to avoid heavy tax penalties.