GP suicide sparks calls for measures to protect doctors from spiralling workloads

The government and policymakers must do more to safeguard doctors and NHS staff from unmanageable workload pressures the BMA and RCGP have said, following the death by suicide of a Surrey GP.

Sign outside BMA House

Dr Gail Milligan, who was described as a 'dedicated, passionate and much loved' doctor, died last month after being overwhelmed by the pressures of her role.

In a heartbreaking post on social media, her husband Christopher said he was 'in no doubt that the job made her ill'.

England BMA GP committee chair Dr Farah Jameel said that Dr Milligan's death would be 'profoundly felt by the whole profession'.

She said that the government and policymakers had to 'wake up to the damage being wrought within the NHS on their watch, and take a more responsible stance to safeguarding the workforce, who are all operating at their absolute limits'.

Meanwhile, the RCGP said that GPs 'were stretched beyond endurance' and needed to be 'better supported' to do their jobs properly.

Tragic loss

RCGP vice chair Dr Gary Howsam said: 'We are shocked and saddened by the tragic death of our colleague Dr Gail Milligan. Our thoughts are with her family and friends, her colleagues at her practice and in Thames Valley Faculty, and her patients. The loss of Dr Milligan will be felt deeply by our college and our profession.

'All our colleagues in general practice are working under unprecedented pressures and we are stretched beyond endurance. We must be better supported to do our jobs properly. We deserve to work in a system that allows us to deliver safe care to our patients – and that also protects our own health and wellbeing.'

Dr Jameel said: 'We offer our deepest condolences to Dr Milligan’s family, friends and colleagues. Their grief will be immeasurable.

'Whilst more details about the circumstances that led to this tragedy may unfold in time, it is clear from the information that we have that Dr Milligan faced intolerable pressures in her working life as she strove to provide the care her patients needed.

'She was not alone; GPs across the country, despite their professionalism, dedication and compassion, are struggling to meet the untenable and unrealistic demands of the job today.'

'GPs in their very nature want to give their all to their patients and their job, but this should never come at the expense of their happiness, health, safety and wellbeing – and those struggling must be able to access the support they need.

'The death of such a talented family doctor will be a monumental loss to her loved ones, patients and the profession.'

GP workload

Last week GP leaders warned that current levels of workload in general practice were unsustainable and unsafe as the profession continues to haemorrhage doctors.

England has lost 442 full-time equivalent (FTE) fully-qualified GPs in the past year alone and more than 1,500 over the past five years, the latest data from NHS Digital show. Meanwhile, numbers of patients registered with GPs have risen close to 62m, leaving each FTE GP responsible for more than 2,200 patients - a figure 16% higher than when records began in 2015.

A poll of 1,300 GPs across the UK by the Rebuild General Practice campaign earlier this year found that more than four in five had experienced work-related anxiety, stress or depression in the past year and a quarter know a colleague in their area who has taken their own life.

  • GPs can access free mental health support from NHS Practitioner Health - more information here. Other NHS professionals may also be able to get help from NHS Practitioner Health, which in England will be via your local health and mental wellbeing hub – see here for details.

Full details on all the support and resources available to doctors experiencing mental ill health are here

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