GPs 'top of the list' as pandemic triggers 46% surge in doctors seeking mental health support

The NHS service supporting doctors and dentists facing burnout, stress, addiction and other mental health problems saw a 46% rise in cases in the first 12 months of the pandemic - with GPs significantly overrepresented.

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In the 12 months from 1 April 2020 to 31 March 2021, NHS Practitioner Health saw 46% more doctors and dentists seeking help on average per month compared to pre-pandemic levels.

In March this year, one year on from the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, cases were more than double the same month in 2020 - up 105%, according to a report from the confidential support service.

Figures released by NHS Practitioner Health show that GPs made up almost half of new patients accessing the service over the past year - showing that the profession is significantly overrepresented among doctors facing mental distress compared with the proportion of the overall medical register it makes up.

GP burnout

In total, over the year from April 2020 to March 2021 4,355 new cases were registered with the service. This is 363 per month on average, a 46% rise compared with the 249 per month over the previous six months, NHS Practitioner Health reported.

The findings come just a day after a report from MPs warned that NHS workforce plans need a total overhaul to tackle soaring levels of burnout in the health service linked to 'chronic excessive workload'.

Women make up four in five of all new presentations, compared with 67% before the pandemic - while the average age of doctors seeking support has dropped to 38.

The NHS Practitioner Health report warns that the rise in women and younger doctors seeking help reflects the 'disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on women from all walks of life, with their additional pressures of working harder than ever whilst juggling their caring responsibilities'.

Workload crisis

On the sharp rise in GPs seeking support, the service warned: 'GPs are bearing a disproportionate burden of the workload against diminishing resources and it perhaps no surprise that they are often top of the list for mental distress and burnout in the medical profession.'

NHS Practitioner Health chief executive Lucy Warner said: 'The last fifteen months have challenged NHS staff like never before and the resilience and strength of the workforce has been remarkable.

'However, what has been achieved has brought challenges and pressures that continue to impact on the mental health of us all. I am so pleased that Practitioner Health is able to be there for any member of staff who needs us, whether it is anxiety or addiction, they are not alone and we are here to help.'

NHS Practitioner Health medical director Dame Clare Gerada said: 'I am pleased that doctors have found their way to us, and that now all healthcare staff can access our service. What is needed going forward is a period of recuperation and reflection such that the hard working NHS can draw breath and recover from the experiences they have all been through on our behalf.'

NHS Practitioner Health service is now available to all 1.6m NHS staff across England and Scotland after an expansion of its offering from the start of this year in response to the rise in staff seeking help during the pandemic.

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