Increasing numbers of GPs suffering burnout or depression during COVID-19 outbreak

An increasing number of GPs are experiencing mental health issues as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a new BMA poll.

(Photo: Martin Prescott/Getty Images)
(Photo: Martin Prescott/Getty Images)

Some 30% of GPs responding to the poll said they were suffering from worse depression, anxiety, burnout or stress related to their work since the COVID-19 outbreak began - almost 3% higher than the figure reported in the same survey in April.

A further 13% of the 3,243 GPs surveyed said that they were experiencing mental health issues related to their work, but these were no worse than they were before the pandemic.

The BMA said that more must be done to help doctors suffering from poor mental health, revealing that its wellbeing support services have seen a 40% increase in use over the past three months.

Mental health support

The association has called on the NHS to ‘step up’ its mental health support offer to all staff during the pandemic - and has asked health bosses to create a long-term strategy to support all clinicians.

Meanwhile, Labour's shadow mental health minister and A&E doctor Rosena Allin-Khan has written to health secretary Matt Hancock to demand that mental health support for NHS workers is made a priority. She suggested that NHS Practitioner Health, the mental health support service that is available to NHS doctors and dentists, be extended to cover all staff.

During the crisis doctors in hospitals and GP practices have been exposed to heightened workplace pressures which were having a detrimental impact on the mental health and wellbeing of staff, the BMA said.

Almost half of doctors in England have reported suffering from work-related anxiety, burnout and depression, with a third saying this has worsened during pandemic.

Access to help

BMA council deputy chair and lead for wellbeing Dr David Wrigley, said: ‘COVID-19 has undoubtedly put a huge strain on the health and wellbeing of NHS staff. It has greatly exacerbated the challenges staff faced before the pandemic and now it is adding significant new ones.

‘Many doctors have experienced a significant rise in their workload and have had to deal with the added anxiety of concerns over PPE and their own safety while delivering care on the frontline during the pandemic.

‘It is unacceptable that almost half of all frontline workers are carrying this burden. What is also disturbing is that one in five doctors feel they do not have access to the help that they need.

In her letter to Mr Hancock, Dr Allin-Khan said that NHS staff were 'breaking down' because of the enormous amounts of stress that they have been put under working through the pandemic.

She said this had been fuelled by a fear of spreading the virus to loved ones, PPE shortages and witnessing the deaths of patients - and warned the health secretary that mental health support ‘cannot be an afterthought’.

Earlier this month deputy CMO for England Dr Jenny Harries warned of a possible surge in demand for mental health support from NHS staff after the pandemic.

NHS England has set up a mental health hotline offering support and advice to all NHS staff through the COVID-19 outbreak. This allows doctors to speak with thousands of trained volunteers, who can give psychological support. It has also launched a new coaching service to support GPs and their teams through the pandemic.

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