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Over half of sessional GPs suffer work-related stress

Seven in ten say they might quit profession if locum pay caps introduced in general practice

Louise Prime

Friday, 16 June 2017

At least half of sessional GPs suffer from work-related stress, according to a new survey by the BMA – and the proportion is closer to two thirds among those who are in salaried or full-time roles. The BMA reported that work-related stress has led more than one in ten sessional GPs to take time off work in the past year.

The BMA also found that a staggering 70% of locums would consider leaving the profession if a locum cap was introduced in general practice. It warned against anything – such as measures that harm locum pay – that could lead to an ‘exodus’ of locum and salaried doctors, who it said play a key part in solving the NHS’s current problems.

The BMA wanted to understand the issues that sessional GPs face, to ensure that its discussions with government accurately address their needs. So its sessional GP subcommittee conducted a UK-wide survey of salaried and locum GPs from 1st March to 6th April 2017. It received 2,079 responses, equivalent to a nominal response rate of 15.1%. Its key findings include:

  • More than half (52%) of all sessional GPs who responded, reported having felt unwell due to work-related stress in the past 12 months. Such symptoms were most likely to be among those working full time or in a salaried role, where the figure was over six in ten (62%).  
  • More than one in 10 sessional GPs (11%) reported taking time off as a result of work-related stress in the past year, with salaried GPs the most likely to report needing a break from work (14%). 
  • Most respondents were of the view that the volume, intensity and complexity of their workload had increased in the last year – among sessional GPs this was most notable for practice employed salaried GPs; three-quarters (76%) of salaried GPs noting a rise.
  • Seven out of ten locum GPs indicated they would consider leaving the profession if a locum cap was introduced in general practice, either by quitting the profession (28%), moving overseas (25%) or retiring early (17%). A further one in ten would think about taking a career break (8%).
  • Locum GPs were the group most satisfied with their work-life balance, which aligns with their reasons for choosing to work in their current role. They reported the highest average morale in the survey, although this was only moderate.

BMA GP Sessional subcommittee chair, Dr Zoe Norris, said: “This wide-ranging survey lays bare the real workload crisis that is threatening to overwhelm the locum and salaried GP workforce. It cannot be healthy that more than half are suffering from the impact of work-related stress that is clearly being caused by a working environment starved of resources despite rising patient demand. Further measures that damage locum pay could result in an exodus of these hard-working professionals that will only make this already difficult situation even more problematic.”

She warned: “The urgency of these challenges cannot be understated, especially the mental health of those responsible for delivering frontline care to patients. Locum and salaried doctors must be seen as a key part of the solution to problems that are threatening to overwhelm our NHS.”

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