Helpline for doctors faces closure over cash crisis

Decision due on future of confidential advice line.

A support line for doctors run by a retired GP and staffed by volunteer doctors is facing closure because of a lack of funding.

Over 40 per cent of calls to the Doctors' SupportLine are from GPs, and 17 of the 80-plus volunteers taking calls are GPs.

The charity has provided a confidential and anonymous service to help doctors suffering from stress, burnout or personal problems, for six years.

Dr Chris Williams, a retired GP from Bournemouth and co-director of the charity, says they will decide whether to close the service in November.

After receiving a one-off grant from the DoH, funding has dried up and the support line now relies on donations and gifts.

'We rely on donations to survive and that is not enough. We have hit a difficult patch. Other charities do not donate because they think "surely the government is already doing something about this",' said Dr Williams.

Prevalence of common mental disorders such as depression is almost twice as high in doctors as in the general population, according to the BMJ.

Dr Williams says the confidential service is vital to provide support in what can be a very difficult role. 'The BMA and royal colleges offer a service but often doctors feel this has some regulatory function.

'Doctors are notoriously difficult to get to seek support - they are afraid of putting their career in jeopardy or feel it is a sign of weakness.

'Many young doctors ring and say they just cannot face going to work. After talking through their issues they go in the next day feeling better about things.

'The main thing is anxiety and stresses at work, and recently, employment worries,' said Dr Williams.

The charity is hoping to raise its profile among doctors and LMCs to survive.

tom.ireland@haymarket.com

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