GPs in the UK ‘have higher stress levels’ than medics in other countries

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GPs in the UK are under “extreme strain” and have the highest stress levels compared with doctors in nine other high income countries, a report has found.

The study, by the Health Foundation charity, found UK GPs also had the lowest job satisfaction compared with those working in France, Germany, the US, Canada, Sweden, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Australia and New Zealand.

Just a decade earlier UK GPs were among the most satisfied of any country, the report said.

The study analysed data from an international survey of 9,526 GPs in 10 high-income countries, including 1,010 in the UK, carried out by the Commonwealth Fund.

It found most GPs in all countries were dealing with higher workloads than before the Covid pandemic, and “many have experienced greater stress and signs of emotional distress”.

Some 71% of UK GPs said they found their job “extremely” or “very” stressful, up from 60% in 2019 and the highest of the 10 countries surveyed.

Stress among UK GPs is up 11 percentage points since 2019.

The data also found that GPs in the UK are among the least satisfied with practising medicine, with just 24% of UK GPs “extremely” or “very” satisfied – similar to GPs in France but lower than all other countries.

GPs in Britain are also among the least satisfied with their work-life balance, workload, and time spent with patients compared with GPs in other countries.

They also think patient care has suffered compared with before the pandemic, with half believing the quality of care they can provide has worsened and only 14% thinking it has improved.

Across all 10 countries, more female GPs reported experiencing emotional distress than male GPs.

However, the study did find that GPs in the UK are more confident in managing end-of-life care (96%) and dementia (95%) than in most other countries.

Hugh Alderwick, director of policy at the Health Foundation, said: “The NHS is not the only health system under pressure, but the experience of GPs in the UK should ring alarm bells for government.

“General practice is the foundation of the NHS, yet GPs are telling us loud and clear that these foundations are creaking.

“Just a decade ago, UK GPs were among the most satisfied of any country in the survey, but now they are the least satisfied alongside GPs in France.

“GPs are stressed out and burnt out – and many are considering leaving their jobs.

“Decisive policy action is needed to improve the working lives of GPs – including to boost GP capacity, reduce workload and make use of wider primary care staff.

“The Government has promised that its much-delayed workforce plan for the NHS will be published shortly, but the promise of new doctors will be little good if the NHS cannot retain the ones it already has.”

Despite repeated pledges to increase the number of GPs, the number of fully qualified, full-time equivalent GPs in England has fallen since 2015, according to data analysed by the Health Foundation.

Professor Kamila Hawthorne, chairwoman of the Royal College of GPs said: “The College has long warned that without urgent action, general practice in the UK will become unsustainable – and this report reveals just what a sorry state of affairs we are facing, especially when compared with other high-income countries.

“It is alarming, but not at all surprising, that GPs in the UK are among the most stressed and over-stretched of the nations examined.

“This chimes with college research that has shown that two-thirds of GPs feel so over-stretched that they cannot guarantee safe patient care, and many cite workload and burn out as a reason they are considering leaving the profession.

“GPs and our teams want to deliver safe, appropriate and timely care for our patients, but with the intense workload and workforce pressures we are working under, this is becoming ever more difficult.

“The forthcoming primary care recovery plan and long-awaited NHS workforce plan will be key opportunities to address the workload and workforce pressures facing general practice.”

A spokesperson for the Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “The number of doctors in general practice rose by over 400 in 2022 and is more than 2,000 higher than 2019 with record numbers in training.

“We are aware of the pressures facing GPs and we have recruited over 25,000 additional members of staff including pharmacists, physiotherapists, and paramedics, who are providing care directly to patients or supporting doctors and nurses to do so.

“We will announce further support soon with our primary care recovery plan and, as mentioned in the Budget, our long term workforce plans.”

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