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GPs urged to take regular breaks to stave off fatigue and keep patients safe

Royal College of GPs launches new poster campaign for every surgery

Caroline White

Monday, 11 April 2016

“A rested GP is a safer GP” is the theme of a new poster campaign, which gets under way today, in a bid to prompt family doctors to take regular breaks to keep their patients safe.  

The campaign, led by the Royal College of GPs, is based on the idea that general practice is a “safety critical industry” and should be treated no different from the aviation and long haul transport industries.

The rules for staving off fatigue in pilots and train drivers should also apply to GPs in their surgeries, says the College.

Under a banner of “Your safety should always come first”, the new poster shows how pilots, train drivers and lorry drivers have limits on the number of hours they can work.

It is being sent to every GP practice in the UK to emphasise the need for GPs and other practice staff to take regular breaks in order to prevent overtiredness and ensure safe care for their patients.

Over 1 million patients visit their GP surgery every day and some GPs are now routinely seeing in excess of 40 patients a day.

GPs and their teams are currently carrying an estimated 370 million patient consultations every year— 60 million more than even five years ago. Yet, over the same period, the number of GPs has grown by a mere 4.1%.

With a growing and ageing population in the UK, more patients have multiple and long-term conditions, increasing the complexity of the work in general practice, which means the standard 10-minute consultation is often too short.

The poster campaign is one of the outcomes of a discussion paper published by the RCGP last year, highlighting growing fatigue among overworked GPs as a threat to patient safety, and suggesting proposals to prevent this.

“Most people would not get on a plane flown by a tired pilot, or jump on a train where they knew the driver had already worked a 12-hour day—and most patients would not choose to be the 40th or 50th patient at the end of a long day in surgery,” said Dr Maureen Baker, Chair of the Royal College of GPs and an expert in patient safety.

“Rising patient demand, excessive bureaucracy, fewer resources, and a chronic shortage of GPs are resulting in worn-out doctors, some of whom are so fatigued that they can no longer guarantee to provide safe care to patients,” she continued.

"It is fine now and again to have a 'really busy day', but general practice is currently relentless and this is a threat to our own health and our patients' safety,” she said.

“It is in everyone’s best interests, to be seen by a GP who is not stressed or fraught and who can focus on giving their patients the time, attention and energy they need,” she insisted.

She added that the campaign would spur ministers into action to provide GPs with the resource and support they needed.

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