The college is sending posters to every practice in the country that say practices should have similar rules on working hours to those applied to long-haul drivers.
General practice, the campaign argues, is a ‘safety critical industry’ and rules preventing fatigue in pilots, lorry and train drivers should apply to GPs.
Under the banner ‘Your safety should always come first’, the poster calls for GPs and other practice staff to take regular breaks to prevent overtiredness and ensure safe patient care.
RCGP chairwoman Dr Maureen Baker, who has worked as primary care director for the National Patient Safety Agency and as clinical director for patient safety with the Health and Social Care Information Centre, said: ‘Most people would not get on a plane flown by a tired pilot, or jump on a train where they knew the driver had already worked a 12-hour day - and most patients would not choose to be the 40th or 50th patient at the end of a long day in surgery.
‘Rising patient demand, excessive bureaucracy, fewer resources, and a chronic shortage of GPs are resulting in worn-out doctors, some of whom are so fatigued that they can no longer guarantee to provide safe care to patients.
‘GPs are currently seeing too many patients a day to be safe and at the end of a long day in clinic, we will still have a mountain of paperwork to get through.
‘It is fine now and again to have a "really busy day", but general practice is currently relentless and this is a threat to our own health and our patients' safety.
‘GPs are at breaking point and tired GPs are more likely to make mistakes - be it a paperwork error or, in the worst cases, missing a potential symptom.
She added: ‘We hope that our poster will encourage practices to implement regular breaks for all GPs, even as little as 10 minutes, so that we can catch our breath from the pressures of surgery.
‘We also hope that it will spur ministers into action to provide GPs with the support we need to do our jobs properly.’