Pressure of 10-minute consultations undermining GP compassion, warns GMC

GPs are struggling to provide compassionate care to patients under the strict pressures of 10-minute consultations, a report published by the GMC has warned.

Problems arising due to the professional isolation of doctors, fragmentation of care and poor communication are threatening the wellbeing of doctors, according to the GMC.

The Medical Professionalism Matters report, launched on Tuesday at the GMC conference in London, compiles feedback from more than 1,000 doctors who responded to polls online and at GMC events held to gauge the challenges facing the medical profession.

The report assessed issues relating to ethics, resilience, collaboration, compassion, scholarship and patient safety.

Professional isolation

Doctors warned of a ‘yawning communication gap between primary and secondary care’, which many felt had grown worse over the last 20 years.

Many reported the current working environment was the ‘most challenging of their career’, as they battled against the pressures of day-to-day practice.

Doctors said they did not believe their colleagues were any less compassionate than 20 years ago, but 44% felt that increasing time pressures and higher patient demand had undermined care.

GPs said 10-minute appointments were driving these pressures. The report said: ‘Many doctors complained there was not enough time to give patients the attention they needed.

'GPs said the 10 minutes they were allotted per patient was far too short. Paradoxically, it is precisely in the most pressured situations that compassion becomes even more important.

Compassionate GPs

‘Organisations were increasingly businesslike. That meant they tended to focus on process and what was measurable – which meant compassion could be neglected because it was difficult to quantify.’

Just one in five doctors polled by the GMC described their current place of work as a ‘supportive working environment’.

The report warns that professionally isolated groups – particularly locums, GPs and community doctors – are at risk of succumbing to pressure because they lack support networks.

Single-hander GPs were identified as being particularly hard to reach. The report said it was ‘especially vital’ for these doctors to talk to other professionals.

But one GP commented that this was a problem for the profession at large: ‘Single-handed GPs used to be a problem but now all GPs are isolated even in big practices because there is just no time for them to build relationships.’

Almost half (47%) of respondents feared they might be penalised if they asked for help because they were struggling.

GMC chairman Professor Terence Stephenson said: ‘We all know medicine is immensely challenging and sometimes issues can seem insurmountable.

‘But throughout this series I have been incredibly heartened and encouraged by the amount of passion and determination participants showed towards finding collaborative solutions to the challenges the profession as a whole faces. It has been immensely gratifying to hear views and ideas from such a wide range of doctors, from across the profession and across the UK.’

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