GP stress grows as boom years fade

Workload and NHS upheaval have left health and social care workers suffering from stress, Nick Bostock reports

Overwork is the top cause of stress among health and social care staff, a survey shows.

A total of 59 per cent of respondents from health and social care organisations chose this as the main cause of work-related stress.

The second most significant cause of stress was badly managed organisational change, reflecting upheaval as NHS organisations in the UK underwent mergers in the last 18 months and adapted to changes under the revised GMS contract.

The survey was carried out by GP’s sister publication Human Resources. It found that stress is  more likely to be a problem for staff in health and social care than the average across all sectors.

Only 3 per cent of health and social care organisations said stress was not a problem, compared to nearly a third of organisations in all sectors, including banking, legal services and IT.

Line managers spent longer dealing with stress in health and social care and many attributed a huge proportion of sickness absence in the sector to stress.

Stress and sick days
A total of 40 per cent of health and social care respondents said up to a quarter of sick days were caused by stress, 27 per cent blamed stress for between and quarter and half of sick days, and 13 per cent said stress caused more than half of sick days.

Securing the ability for GPs to limit workload was a key GPC aim in negotiating a revised GMS contract in 2004.

Although negotiators succeeded in shedding 24-hour responsibility an element of GP work that was closely linked to stress, it appears that stress, is now on the rise again.

Health and social care organisations were more likely than other sectors to say stress was a growing problem. Two thirds said it had increased in the last year compared to half in all sectors.

Dr Tim Cantopher, consultant psychiatrist for the Priory Hospitals Group, said consultations with GPs suffering from stress were mushrooming. Doctors made up the largest proportion of his patient list (GP, 8 September 2006). He blamed this on over-regulation in the NHS and incessant reform.

Dr Kris Wlodarczyk, a Clitheroe, Lancashire GP SI in occupational health, said that the GMS contract and loss of 24-hour responsibility made GPs’ lives less stressful. But he said that stress was re-emerging due to different factors.

‘DoH initiatives are making GPs’ lives stressful in a different way, he said. Choose and Book, for example, causes confusion because it creates delays that you can’t explain to patients.’

Out of control
Dr Helen Alpin, a Leeds GP and professional executive committee chairwoman at East Leeds PCT, said loss of control was a key cause of stress.

Both Dr Alpin and Dr Wlodarczyk said the DoH’s top-down approach to running the NHS had a negative impact on the morale of staff.

Dr Alpin said: ‘The new contract defined GP work well and removed 24-hour responsibility.

‘But the DoH has turned that positive climate around — the recent media bashing of GPs has not been helpful to morale.’

She said GPs were working more intensively under the revised contract and expectations both from government and patients were higher. But against the backdrop of the pay freeze and uncertainty about the future of staff taken on to deliver new contract priorities, pressure on GPs was growing, she said.

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