Two in five GPs cut sessions last year to improve work/life balance

More than 40% of GPs reduced the number of sessions they work in frontline general practice over the past year to improve work/life balance, a GPonline poll reveals.

GP consultation (Photo: iStock.com/sturti)
GP consultation (Photo: iStock.com/sturti)

More than one in three GPs (36%) said they reduced the number of sessions they work, with a further 6% reporting a wholesale switch to part-time working, according to the poll of 606 GPs.

The poll reflects rising pressure on GPs, with 59% of respondents reporting that their work/life balance had worsened over the past year. Just 14% said it had improved, with the rest reporting no change.

Seven in 10 GPs who took part in the poll said they had taken steps to improve their work/life balance over the past year. A total of 16% said they switched to locum work, 8% quit a partnership role and 9% recruited to expand their practice team.

Portfolio GPs

The poll revealed that almost a quarter GPs who reduced their sessions took on other work outside of frontline general practice - suggesting that many are shifting to portfolio work rather than simply reducing hours.

GPonline reported last year on official figures that show GP practices deliver more than 1m appointments a day - with a total of 307.4m appointments in the year to October 2018. Updated figures published last month revealed a year-on-year rise - with an extra 500,000 appointments in November 2018 compared with the same month in 2017.

Pressure on GPs has seen a sharp drop in the proportion prepared to take on partnership roles, with a 10% drop in numbers of GP partners in less than three years from September 2015 - when former health secretary Jeremy Hunt promised to recruit an extra 5,000 full-time equivalent GPs.

One GP responding to the survey said: 'My morale has significantly improved since I left my partnership for locum work, reduced my sessions and took on other career roles outside of frontline general practice. Without having done this I previously risked burnout and leaving the profession altogether.'

Working hours

Another GP said: 'I changed my role away from salaried GP and I am enjoying my work for the first time in years. The morale of my friends still doing salaried or partner roles seems pretty low. I enjoy shift patterns where my work is defined and boundaried which means I know when I am at work and when I am not - this was not so for my salaried job.'

One respondent to the survey highlighted heavy workload and long hours as a key factor driving up pressure on GPs and impacting on morale. 'I am reasonably well paid on paper but receive no pay for all the extra hours which are many,' the GP said.

'The workload for all of us is relentless and unmanageable. I have early morning waking, feel irritable a lot of the time and some days I don't want to go in. I feel angry that successive governments have put us in this position.

'I qualified in 1986 and I can't think of a time when morale was lower than this. Patients are also very demanding. This is not sustainable and I don't have much faith in the new contract. Our workloads need to be meaningfully reduced or general practice will collapse completely in my opinion.'

GP contract

The BMA's GP committee chair Dr Richard Vautrey, however, has backed the five-year GP contract agreement unveiled on 31 January to 'set us on the road to rebuilding not only general practice but also the wider primary health care team'.

Reacting to the agreement last month he said: 'Recent years have seen hard-working family doctors deal with an overstretched workforce doing their best to meet rising demand from patients suffering more and more complex conditions, all on the back of a decade of underinvestment in general practice.

'After years of derisory pay uplifts for staff and tightening financial pressures on practices, we have been able to negotiate a five-year deal guaranteeing investment that covers pay and expenses, and at least matches predicted inflation.'

He pointed to the 'crucial' deal to create a state-backed indemnity scheme from April 2019, and said the contract reforms 'present a real opportunity to demonstrate that GPs will lead the development of a more resilient community-based health service for the benefit of our patients for years to come'.

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