Viewpoint: Soaring GP stress should set alarm bells ringing, warns Dr Richard Vautrey

As the BMA's landmark poll of GPs reveals the extent of workload pressure on the profession, GPC deputy chairman Dr Richard Vautrey says the fact that 16% of GPs report 'unmanageable stress' is truly startling.

Dr Richard Vautrey: warning over GP stress (Photo: JH Lancy)
Dr Richard Vautrey: warning over GP stress (Photo: JH Lancy)

The BMA's latest poll findings put into stark perspective the strength of feeling among GPs - a third of GPs have had enough and are looking to retire as soon as possible.

Sixteen percent of GPs say their workload stress is significant and unmanageable. That is an alarm bell that should be ringing around the country.The GP workforce is under huge pressure, and we have to tackle that with a significant degree of urgency.

Another startling figure is that 19% of GP trainees plan to work abroad by 2020. That speaks volumes - with doctors choosing to go and work in a climate where they feel valued more than they do in current UK general practice.

GP workload pressure

Both this week’s survey and last week’s paint pictures of the workload pressure on GPs. Last week's data showed that nearly all GPs now say heavy workload is impacting on the quality of care patients receive. But the latest results show there is an impact not just on patients, but on GPs themselves.

It is no surprise GPs are looking to retire as soon as possible when one in six face unmanageable stress.

We have to look at the whole range of issues underlying that. We have to reverse the nine years of funding cuts – the reduction of the share of the NHS budget spent on general practice from 11% to 7.4% - NHS England has to do that as soon as possible. If we get that we will be able to convince young doctors to join general practice.

We need a real focus on recruitment, not just of GPs but practice nurses, and other support staff. We need an emphasis on community nursing teams being put back together around general practice.

There are a whole variety of things that can be and must be done to prioritise community-based services.

Move funding into general practice

There is still work to do to convince powerful foundation trusts and others that they need to allow not just work but also funding to flow into the community, as well as enabling staff to work alongside general practice where appropriate.

We also need to recognise the pressure on other NHS services. It's no use robbing Peter to pay Paul – we need to see demonstrably new resources being invested right across the NHS.

We need not just fine words, but politicians putting money where their mouth is. There has been a change in climate, and we are now winning the argument. While we have concerns about many of their ideas, for the first time politicians are now making pledges around the number of GPs on the front pages of their manifestos.

There is acknowledgement of the need to recruit more GPs - it has never been so high on the election priority list. That is because of the campaigning we have done and the fact that the reality has dawned that we need to find more GPs.

With the £1bn pledged for premises funding, we finally got the Treasury to realise it needed to put money in. It's not enough, but it is a start.

We will need to work with the incoming government, and hold them to account to deliver on their promises around recruitment of GPs. The future of general practice depends on it.

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