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Supporting doctors in times of need

Dr Udvitha Nandasoma, head of advisory services at the Medical Defence Union (MDU) and Steven Crone, chief executive of the Royal Medical Benevolent Fund (RMBF) discuss how the ongoing partnership between the MDU and the RMBF is supporting GPs facing challenging circumstances.

(Photo: BraunS/Getty Images)

The theme of the 2023 Mental Health Awareness Week (15-21 May) is anxiety, which according to the Mental Health Foundation is 'one of the most common mental health problems we can face” with their research finding that “a quarter of adults said they felt so anxious that it stopped them from doing the things they want to do some or all of the time [with] six in ten adults [feeling] this way, at least some of the time.'

Doctors as well as patients face increased levels of stress, with a recent survey undertaken by the MDU, finding that work pressures had increased for 90% of respondents, with 52% often finding work emotionally exhausting.

For example, one respondent to our survey commented: ‘The systems are now so stretched that when you want to escalate a patient's care you can't - which leaves you feeling helpless and anxious.’

Challenges facing GPs

Sadly, this is unsurprising given the numerous challenges that those working in the primary care system are currently facing including:

  • Increasing workload, demand, and expectations
  • Fear of making a mistake and of litigation
  • Financial worries
  • Constant scrutiny, review, and inspection
  • Perceived hostile comments from politicians and the press
  • Recruitment difficulties
  • Isolation as increased workload reduces contact time within the team

Doctors deal with difficult situations every day and sometimes feel they are expected to 'keep calm and carry on', and that asking for or needing support may be displaying a sign of weakness. More specifically, general practice can be lonely and having a supportive team can be beneficial to GPs’ mental health.

GPs are just as likely to be working as salaried doctors or locums these days and benefit from a sense of being in a team and of common purpose. It is important that GPs feel able to ask for help when they need it, considering what they would advise a patient in a similar situation to themselves.

How we are supporting doctors

The difficulties doctors are facing in both primary and secondary care has resulted in the MDU partnering with the Royal Medical Benevolent Fund (RMBF) to support doctors who are facing difficult and challenging circumstances.

Over the last two years, MDU foundation doctor members have raised over £30,000 for the charity which has resulted in a 34% increase in the number of medical students the RMBF now supports.

The RMBF provides support for doctors and their families through all stages of their career and beyond. The majority of their trustees come from a medical background meaning that, like the MDU, the RMBF understands the unique pressures facing doctors on a day-to-day basis. Their help ranges from financial assistance in the form of grants to a telephone befriending scheme for those who may be isolated and in need of support.

One beneficiary commented: ‘I am ever so grateful for this. I don’t know how to thank you enough for this support; it will truly change my financial situation. Thank you so much for your help, what this organisation does is incredible.’

The partnership with the RMBF is just one way that the MDU supports its GP members experiencing difficult circumstances. An additional source of support is the MDU’s peer support network.

The network, which was established in 2020, provides MDU members the opportunity to speak with other members who have been through a similar process.

The purpose of the contact is not to discuss the specifics of the case, but to offer the member an opportunity to ask questions and obtain the advice of someone who has “been in their shoes” and can draw on their first-hand experience to provide personal support, guidance, reassurance, and hope.

  • Click here to learn more about how the RMBF supports doctors in need and here to learn more about the MDU’s peer support program and the health and wellbeing e-learning modules.

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