GPs 'Putting Patients' Health Before Their Own Mental Health'

Nicky Broyd

August 23, 2018

A survey of 1066 GPs in England and Wales by the mental health group Mind found 2 in 5 said they had mental health problems, including depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder.

Participants were self-selecting and completed an online survey between January and March this year. 

When it came to seeking help, 86% of GPs said they'd turn to family and friends rather than colleagues (48%), their practice manager (33%), or professional bodies, including the GMC (1%).
 

Workload Taking Its Toll

Reacting to the survey results, Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, chair of the Royal College of GPs (RCGP) said: "GPs, indeed most healthcare professionals, are renowned for putting their patients' health before their own – and given the intense pressures currently facing general practice, this very high proportion of GPs living with mental health problems is deeply concerning, but not a total surprise.

"GPs work incredibly hard, often putting in 12-hour days in clinic, making upwards of 60 patient contacts a day, and dealing with huge amounts of administrative work. This relentless workload will inevitably take its toll on both doctors' physical and mental health and wellbeing, however resilient they may be.

"Workload in general practice has increased by at least 16% over the last 7 years, both in volume and complexity, but the share of the NHS budget our profession receives is less than it was a decade ago, and GP numbers are falling. The result is that highly-skilled and much-needed doctors are becoming disenchanted, exhausted, and burnt-out, with many being forced to take the drastic decision to leave the profession altogether."
 

More Support Needed

A confidential NHS support service has been set up for GPs, but Mind says the NHS and the Government should do more to help tackle work-related stress, workload, and long hours. Practices should also implement policies and procedures that promote the wellbeing of staff, Mind says.

Vicki Nash, the group's head of policy and campaigns, said: "We knew from talking to primary care staff that many of them were experiencing poor mental health but hadn't realised just how prevalent mental health problems were among GPs. People with mental health problems – and especially those working within healthcare – can and do make a valuable contribution to the workplace, but it's really important that they're able to get any support they need. Our research shows a lot of primary care professionals don't feel comfortable talking to peers and colleagues if they're struggling with their mental health.

She continued: "Primary care staff do a stressful job day in, day out, but too often aren't getting the support they need. When they feel well and supported, they can provide the best possible care for their patients.

"Working in healthcare doesn't make it any easier to talk about your mental health at work. In fact, concerns over fitness to practice can make it harder. It needs to be ok for health care staff to talk about their mental health. Like anyone else, they need and should have support."

Prof Helen Stokes-Lampard said: "It's a terrible irony that GPs, the gatekeepers of the NHS who spend their lives caring for others, are often suffering in silence about their mental health and don't feel as though they're able to reach out and ask for help.

"More needs to be done to solve the root cause of the untenable workload and pressures that GPs are dealing with, and that means more resources, and more doctors and practice team members working in UK general practice.

"Being a GP can be the best job in the world, but only when we're given the resources to do it properly - no one should have to work in an environment which puts their own health at risk, least of all their mental health and wellbeing."
 

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