The study, conducted by researchers at the University of Westminster and published in the British Journal of General Practice, talked to GPs in focus groups and one-to-one interviews.
It found that the NHS Quality and Outcomes Framework (QOF) that rewards GPs for jumping through “hoops”, and a reduction in hospital care provision (resulting in GPs taking up the slack) pose unprecedented challenges to GPs’ time management and level of funding, while complicating their care responsibilities.
GPs say that all this, alongside rigid 10-minute patient slots and increasingly aged patients with more complex problems, impact on their wellbeing and their ability to practice safely.
One GP said, “I felt unsafe in my practice because my head was too full and there was too much going on, and I didn't feel I was able to think clearly, rationally.”
Professor Damien Ridge, one of the authors of the research, said, “At a time when GPs need more support than ever, NHS reforms have intensified GP work, increasingly cutting them off from their colleagues, patients and loved ones, and this is not without risk.”
One GP said, “I came home [from work] and I just went upstairs, I didn’t eat, I didn’t talk to anybody at home, I just went into a kind of stupor of just, I think it’s partly because in those really busy days with so many people and so many emotions, you just haven’t got the time to process anything…”
Not surprisingly, GPs are now reducing their hours or wanting to leave the profession entirely, potentially creating dangerous gaps in our healthcare system.
One GP interviewed said: “I guess I’ve managed it by working less and I feel like I can’t do my job if I worked five days a week, I wouldn’t be able to do my job to the standard that I feel happy doing my job at. I can’t work full time being a GP, it’s too stressful.”
Professor David Peters, Director of the Westminster Centre for Resilience, said, “Many GPs are using resilience building techniques to mitigate their work stress including mindfulness, yoga and exercise which is encouraging. However, part of the problem can only be solved by the NHS itself. And yet current proposals to move to a seven-day GP service have created further anxieties for GPs.”
On this topic, one GP said, “We were thinking, we can’t cope with five days at the moment… how on earth are they going to get us doing seven days!”
The data collected revealed that GPs were facing similar issues across the country, and while they are in it for the patients: “We all love our job, we work for the patients”, they were feeling additional heat from negative doctor portrayals in the UK media and by politicians: “Negative portrayal of the profession in the press, I think, is a strong demotivator”.