One in 20 GPs have sought help from specialist NHS mental health service

More than one in 20 GPs have sought help from a specialist NHS mental health service since its inception just two and a half years ago, figures obtained by GPonline show.

GPs under pressure (Photo: sturti/Getty Images)
GPs under pressure (Photo: sturti/Getty Images)

The GP Health Service - which offers support to primary care doctors facing burnout, stress, addiction and other mental health issues - has supported 2,261 GPs and GP trainees since it was first launched in October 2016. This is equivalent to roughly 5.5% of the GP workforce in England.

Almost 1,000 GPs registered with the provider in the last financial year - from April 2018 to March 2019, GPonline can reveal - roughly the same as in the previous year. Meanwhile, the service’s current caseload stands at around 1,600 - up more than 15% since November 2018.

Lucy Warner, chief executive of the GP Health Service and the NHS Practitioner Health Programme, told GPonline that the latest figures were ‘32% higher’ than predicted.

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The figures come just days after a BMA survey of more than 4,000 doctors found that 90% of GPs faced a ‘high risk’ of burnout. 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.

The report also found that there remained ‘a stigma around accessing support services’ for mental health issues. Among GP respondents, the highest proportion preferred to seek out their own GP (63%) or friends and family (49%) for support, while 20% admitted to using an NHS or Government funded health service.

Meanwhile, 21% of GPs taking part in the BMA survey said they used an alternative service - referring to the NHS GP Health Service, Practitioner Health Programme, counselling and other individual arrangements.

Ms Warner said the BMA figures made it clear that ‘there is a high level of stress and distress amongst doctors’.

Mental health stigma

‘We would encourage all doctors to seek help through mainstream NHS routes if they are able to, but the GP Health Service exists for that cohort who cannot or do not feel able to access confidential care appropriate to their needs and who may need more specialist support from a team who understands the professional or regulatory issues doctors face,’ Ms Warner added.

‘I believe the stigma issue around mental health does still exist, but the more we talk about mental health and the impact of the role on doctors mental wellbeing this will become more widely accepted and understood.’

GPC chair Dr Richard Vautrey said this week that the high risk of burnout for GPs reflected 'the rapidly rising workload pressures at the same time as over a decade of underfunding that practices have had to cope with'.

He added: '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.’

The GP Health Service and Practitioner Health Programme have been rated 'outstanding' by the CQC.

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