Nine out of 10 GPs face 'high risk' of burnout, BMA survey reveals

GPs are more likely to experience burnout than almost any other group of doctors, a major BMA survey has found.

GPs under pressure (Photo: Martin Prescott/Getty Images)
GPs under pressure (Photo: Martin Prescott/Getty Images)

A total of 88% of GP partners and 85% of sessional GPs face a 'high' or 'very high' risk of burnout, the survey of 4,300 doctors found.

The burnout rate among GP partners was second only to junior doctors (91%), while sessional GPs were the fourth most at-risk group behind SAS doctors. The average risk of burnout across all respondents was 80%.

Overall, 37% of GP partners and sessional GPs who took part in the survey said they were currently suffering from ‘depression, anxiety, burnout, stress, emotional distress and/or another mental health condition’ that was impacting on their work. This figure rose slightly to an average of 40% across all groups taking part in the survey.

Mental health

The report also found that 30% of GP partners and 40% of sessional GPs had received a formal mental health diagnosis at some point in their career. Sessional GPs were 50% more likely to have an ‘active’ mental health issue than GP partners, with 12.6% saying they had received a formal diagnosis ‘within the last 12 months’.

The average rate of survey respondents who had received a diagnosis for a mental health condition within the last year was 7%.

GPonline reported last year that the total caseload for the GP Health Service - set up to provide confidential support to NHS GPs facing problems including stress, burnout and addiction - had risen to almost 1,400 doctors.

Burnout is described by the BMA as a ‘psychological syndrome that is characterised by overwhelming exhaustion, depersonalisation and reduced personal efficiency’. The survey used the Oldenburg Burnout Inventory (OLBI) to calculate burnout risk, assessing the two core dimensions of burnout – exhaustion and disengagement from work.

GP burnout

High scores for exhaustion among doctors who took part in the survey were the principal factor that drove up burnout risk, with doctors working more than 51 hours per week found most likely to be at risk of burnout.

The phrases ‘There are days when I feel tired before I arrive at work’, ‘After my work, I usually feel worn out and weary’ and ‘After my work, I tend to need more time than in the past in order to relax and feel better’ were the most commonly selected by doctors taking part in the survey as reflecting their experiences.

GPC chair Dr Richard Vautrey said: ‘This survey is the latest in a long line to again highlight the serious issue of burnout impacting GPs across the country. This is a reflection of the rapidly rising workload pressures at the same time as over a decade of underfunding that practices have had to cope with.

'This is why the additional funding and expanded workforce plans committed in the GP contract changes cannot come quickly enough, and which should start to take some of the pressure off GPs and their teams, and by doing so start to turn around the current unacceptable situation.’

Workforce

Professor Dinesh Bhugra - BMA president and emeritus professor of mental health and cultural diversity at King's College London - said the report had ‘shone an important light on the alarming mental health crisis currently burdening the medical workforce’, adding ‘the link between the current pressures on doctors and poor mental health can no longer be ignored’.

‘While there is no denying that being a doctor is a challenging and demanding role, too often the line of what can be considered routine pressures of the job has most definitely been crossed and the consequence is a workforce that has been pushed to literal breaking point,’ he said.

‘A system that fails to support and protect the health of its own workforce will only flounder and this is as clear a call to action if ever there was one.’

Professor Bhugra added: 'As well as focusing on addressing the immediate pressures which are negatively impacting doctors, such as long working hours, unmanageable workloads and rota gaps, we need to see a wider cultural shift that addresses this stigma that currently inhibits doctors seeking help and ensures that support is publicised and readily available for those who do so.'

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