GPs more vulnerable to burnout than most other doctors, experts warn

GPs are more vulnerable to burnout than doctors in most other specialties, experts have warned - as a study found reliance on part-time and locum GPs had increased mental health risks in general practice.

GPs 'more at risk of burnout' (Photo: iStock)
GPs 'more at risk of burnout' (Photo: iStock)

A report from the Society of Occupational Medicine (SOM) highlighted 'robust evidence that many doctors in the UK are struggling with their mental health', with 'between 30 and 40%' of doctors experiencing burnout and work-related stress.

The SOM report warned that GPs were 'more vulnerable to burnout (particularly emotional exhaustion), work-related stress and common mental health problems than doctors in most other specialities'.

It added that 'this has been linked to the increased demands placed on primary care along with diminishing financial and staffing resources'.

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The report came as research published in the British Journal of General Practice (BJGP) on Tuesday warned that strong team support in general practice was a 'prerequisite' for individual GP resilience - and that the profession's growing reliance on part-time and locum doctors had increased risk of burnout.

GP resilience 'did not appear to be a matter of individual capability', the BJGP study found. Even GPs who actively pursued strategies aimed at increasing their resilience 'still experienced feelings of burnout' if they lacked supportive colleagues, researchers said.

The researchers found that 'working in supportive teams provided the right context for participants to demonstrate resilience, so was a prerequisite rather than a promoter of it'. It added: 'Given greater numbers of salaried, part-time, and locum GPs, it is harder and less automatic to build a strong team.'

New doctors struggling with resilience should look to how their team functions, instead of battling their own inabilities to cope single-handedly,' the researchers said. 'Likewise, more senior and permanent staff can learn that resilience is dependent on their efforts in creating and ensuring a supportive multidisciplinary team, especially when working in deprived areas.'

GP Health Service

Earlier this year, GPonline revealed that 1,200 GPs were receiving support from the GP Health Service, set up to offer confidential support for free to NHS GPs facing problems with mental health or addiction.

The SOM report highlighted that levels of work-related stress, burnout and mental health issues were rising among GPs - as well as among trainees and junior doctors, highlighting concerns that working in general practice may be 'no longer compatible with a healthy work-life balance'.

It warned: 'Current working conditions and associated health problems also make major contributions to the poor retention and turnover rates in the medical workforce, especially among GPs. The working conditions and poor mental health of doctors have also been linked with patient safety and financial performance.'

More support for doctors in the workplace was 'crucial', the SOM report warned. It added: 'Additional research is needed to examine clear gaps in knowledge. This includes, but is not limited to, the impact of ongoing change and restructuring in the NHS, work-life balance and recovery, and doctors’ coping behaviours.

'More insight into why and how help-seeking is stigmatised in medicine and the implications of such attitudes for wellbeing and job performance is also needed. This will help inform interventions to reduce the taboo of disclosing mental health problems and a "failure to cope" at an early stage.'

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