GP stress levels 'triple' due to workload surge

GPs reporting stress have tripled in parts of the country over the past year because of a surge in workload levels with some areas reporting a sharp rise in GPs self-referring to psychological services.

Dr Charlotte Jones: GP stress is rising (photo: Ray Farley)
Dr Charlotte Jones: GP stress is rising (photo: Ray Farley)

LMC leaders have warned of a workforce crisis and a reduction in patient access because the rise in workload and decreasing resources in primary care has led to more GPs taking early retirement or going part-time.

Nottinghamshire LMC, which has a pastoral counselling service for GPs that takes on 15 cases a year, has now been alerted to a sharp rise in GPs self-referring to a psychological service, which offers more intensive support such as cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT).

LMC chief executive Chris Locke said: ‘They said it is something they have noticed in the past 12 months. Compared to the number of patients, there seems a disproportionately high percentage of GPs.

‘It might be the tip of the iceberg. They need help with stress.

‘GPs are reaching 60-plus and they are saying "I’m off, that’s it". They don’t feel able to do it. There is too much pressure. Recruitment is not great. The future isn’t looking rosy for having the required number of doctors.’

Mid Mersey LMC has seen the number of stress-related calls from GPs triple in the past year. Medical secretary Dr Ivan Camphor said: ‘There are implications for their personal life and their quality of life. GPs are resilient but we are under considerable stress and strain.’

Welsh LMCs have seen a rise of about 40% in the past year from GPs complaining about stress and asking for advice about early retirement, warned deputy GPC Wales chairwoman Dr Charlotte Jones.

‘I wouldn’t be surprised if the actual figure is much higher because people might not want to admit it,’ she said.

‘We are all finding our working days more stressful. The days are more complex.

'Stress is increasing across the whole of UK GP workforce and GPs continue to manage ever-increasing consultation numbers against a contract which changes yearly on a background of little new investment.’

UK GPC member and Lothian GP partner Dr Amy Small said she was forced to go part time this year because she couldn’t cope doing 50-hour weeks.

‘I wasn’t coping with the work’, she said. ‘I was rushing through my consultations.

‘Now I do three days of seeing patients but on the fourth day I end up doing paperwork on my supposed day off.’

Dr Small fears that patient care will suffer as a result of the ‘box-ticking exercises’ for QOF. ‘You get a patient that you will come in and you will have five yellow QOF boxes flashing,’ she said. ‘They come with their agenda but you have your agenda that you want to address for the practice. You try and do what is best for the patient. It can be quite stressful.’

Patient access could suffer or dangerous mistakes could be made if nothing is done, warned UK GPC member and Salisbury GP Dr Helena McKeown.

‘The consequences of having a profession of overworked or overstressed doctors by workload, is that there are going to be consequences such as people cutting corners and errors made. Or they start to reduce their hours and there maybe some different implications for access or continuity of care.’

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