System-wide change is needed to tackle GP burnout, warns leading GP

The 'epidemic' of burnout among GPs is indicative of the current state of the NHS and system-wide change is needed to tackle the problem, a leading GP has said.

Dr Stephanie De Giorgio
Dr Stephanie De Giorgio

Speaking at Londonwide LMCs' conference this week, Dr Stephanie De Giorgio, co-founder of the grassroots organisation Resilient GP, said that GPs felt like ‘canaries in the coal mine’.

She said that burnout in doctors needed to be looked at as a 'system-wide problem', because otherwise 'it becomes a blame culture and that's the last thing any of us need to deal with'.

Dr De Giorgio warned that training doctors to become more resilient also ran the risk of creating a blame culture, particularly if training was provided by employing organisations.

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‘If an organisation that has created a difficult environment tries to teach you to be resilient then they’re teaching you that everything they have done is fine and actually the problem is you,' she said.

'So we need to think about resilience training in a different way, in a way that stops the blame culture. Because, actually, the problem isn’t us. We’re not the problem - the system is the problem. We’re the canaries in a yucky mine.’

‘There’s a real cognitive dissonance between the job we know we want to do and the system that doesn’t allow us to do it,’ Dr De Giorgio added.

Also speaking at the conference, Dr Elliott Singer, medical director at Londonwide LMCs, said the NHS needed to ensure that doctors were working in safe environments if it was to tackle rising burnout rates.

‘There’s that concept that we’re not coping and it’s not because of us,' he said. 'It’s because the system isn't set up to make sure that we’re working in a safe environment that can maximise our potential and enables us to give the most to our patients. So we need to swiftly move away from the idea that this is something to do with us.’

Burnout

Earlier this year GPonline revealed that 1,109 GPs in England accessed the NHS GP Health Service, which was set up to support GPs dealing with burnout and other mental health issues, in its first year of operation.

A BMA poll in 2016 found that more than 80% of GPs in England believe their workload is unmanageable.

Dr DeGiorgio said that the current system also meant that GPs were at greater risk of experiencing burnout earlier in their career.

‘One of the things I’ve noticed as a GP trainer and programme director is that trainees coming out of the hospital system seem to be being worn down more and more and more,' she said. 'Little things that just pick at them as they come out every year just seem to be getting worse and worse and by the time they came out and into general practice their confidence in their own abilities seems to be at an all time low.'

She added: 'What we want to do is instill confidence back into the profession so that people feel comfortable with the decisions they are making.'

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