And shock figures from the Royal College of GPs reveal soaring numbers of doctors seeking help for depression and burnout. According to the GP who set up a programme to help family doctors, some have been pushed to the brink of suicide. The problems are being blamed on a major shortage of GPs sparking longer working hours.
Dr Clare Gerada, founder of the NHS Practitioner Health Programme offering help to GPs and dentists, warned average 11-hour days worked by GPs were a major risk factor.
Out of the 3,000 NHS practitioners seeking help for mental health problems from her programme, a total of 1,855 (56 percent) are GPs.
She said action had to be taken to stop GPs working the long hours that are destroying their lives and putting patients at risk.
Dr Gerada said the programme was a “lifeline to doctors who are struggling” and “made it acceptable to ask for help before we crash and burn”.
Dr Helen Garr, who helps GPs with mental health problems, added: “I did this talk once and a lovely GP came to find me at the end and said, ‘I once had to phone the caretaker to come because I pulled the sink off my wall, because I was so short on time, I peed in my sink and it fell off the wall.”
Dr Garr added: “Somebody said to me, ‘Do you know what? I don’t drink all day at work – it takes 43 seconds to fill up my water bottle at the tap.”
Dr Gerada said: “Workers can feel exhausted after eight hours in a shop or office.
“Imagine seeing up to 40 patients a day, their lives in your hands, with all the paperwork and admin. Is it any wonder mistakes are made?”
Dr Gerada, who is the former chair of the Royal College of GPs, is calling for working days to be restricted to eight hours.
The Government, she added, had to “find ways of looking after the people who look after the patients”.
She said the Government needed to look beyond “vote-winning gimmicks” and recruit more GPs.
A key recruitment drive to bring in 1,600 more GPs a year was axed by the Government, which doctor’s leaders claim has only hampered the GP shortage.
Dr Gerada said: “We have to pull back from almost 12 hour days every day and longer.
“I know people will say hospital doctors work 12 hour shifts, but is working a 12 hour shift necessarily good?
“The current Government wants to help. We all need to work together to take the pressure off GPs to stop people being driven to mental breakdown or suicide by their work.
“What we have to do is find ways of looking after the people who look after the patients.
“General Practice makes the NHS tick, so we have to devise new methods to relieve the strain that wasn’t there 20-30 years ago.”
She added: “There was mental illness in GPs 15-20 years ago but the difference is that many doctors can’t do a full day’s work now without feeling utterly exhausted at the end and that is not good for them or their patients. There used to be a work life balance, which there should be in all jobs and that has utterly gone out of the window in general practice.”
A Department of Health spokesman said GP trainees had “increased for the fifth year in a row.”
He added: “We’re backing primary and community care with an extra £4.5billion by 2023/24, and are working hard to recruit and retain more family doctors.”