GPs across Britain are working above safe levels because of relentless and unmanageable workloads, The Guardian reports leading doctors have warned. Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, chair of the Royal College of GPs, said that family doctors were “regularly working way beyond what could be considered safe for patients”, potentially jeopardising their own health and wellbeing.
The report says her comments were made in response to a survey by GP magazine Pulse. It heard from 900 GPs across the UK and found that each deals with 41 patients a day. The European Union of General Practitioners (UEMO), a leading forum of European family doctors, has said that seeing around 25 patients is safe.
The report says the Pulse poll found that one in five family doctors (20%) deal with 50 daily patient contacts, which include face-to-face and telephone consultations, home visits and e-consultations. Some GPs told Pulse they have 70 contacts a day. Stokes-Lampard said: “GPs expect to be busy, and we are making more consultations than ever before as we strive to deliver the best possible care to all our patients who need it. But the workload at the moment is relentless and it’s taking its toll.”
Stokes-Lampard said the survey backed up what the college has been saying for years – that many GPs are regularly working way beyond what could be considered safe for patients. It was not necessarily the number of consultations, but the content of those consultations, she added. “Our patients are increasingly presenting with more complex, chronic conditions, many of which require much longer than the standard 10-minute appointment,” she said.
“Our workload needs to be addressed – it has risen at least 16% over the last seven years,” she added. “Yet the share of the overall National Health Service (NHS) budget general practice receives is less than it was a decade ago, and our workforce has not risen at pace with demand.”
Dr Richard Vautrey, British Medical Association (BMA) general practitioners committee chair, said in the report: “We know that an unmanageable and unsafe workload is the primary reason behind doctors leaving general practice, which is leading to serious issues including practices closing to new patients and other surgeries closing entirely. This workload pressure also means GPs are increasingly suffering from burnout and patients are being put at risk of unsafe care.”
He urged the government to work with the BMA to come up with a long-term solution “to ensure the needs of a growing population with increasingly complex conditions can be met safely on the front line”.
The report says patients’ groups and MPs also expressed concern at the findings. Liz McAnulty, chair of the Patients Association, said: “We have gone past the point where efficiencies can be found, and firmly into territory where GPs’ workloads are unsustainable and where patients face growing waits to access GPs and greater risks to their safety.”
Shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth said the Royal College’s warning should serve as an urgent wake-up call to ministers. “The truth is, since 2010 years of severe underfunding of our NHS has left general practice squeezed with tired, overworked and overstretched GPs. We have lost 1,000 GPs in the past year.”The Guardian report