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GPs in UK are more stressed and dissatisfied than colleagues abroad

by Awil Mohamoud
5 March 2020

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UK GPs are among the most stressed and least satisfied in the profession in the developed world due to high workload, unsatisfactory pay and short consultation times, a study has found. 

The Health Foundation report, which analysed a 2019 survey of 13,000 GPs across 11 developed countries, found that only GPs in France had lower levels of job satisfaction. 

Just 6% of UK GPs reported feeling ‘extremely satisfied’ or ‘very satisfied’ with their overall workload – the lowest of any country surveyed. 

Only Swedish GPs reported higher levels of stress. Six in 10 UK GPs said they find their job ‘extremely’ or ‘very’ stressful. 

The same survey, carried out in 2015, showed a similar figure, suggesting ‘little progress has been made in reducing GP stress,’ according to the Health Foundation.

The report highlighted increasing pressures as partly responsible. There are now 1,700 fewer qualified permanent full-time GPs than there were in 2015 when the then Government pledged to recruit an additional 5,000 into the workforce by 2020.

The shortage means the number of patients per GP has grown from 2,180 to 2,240 in the last year alone, ‘placing greater workload on practitioners,’ said the report. 

Astonishingly, half of GPs said they plan to reduce their weekly hours in the next three years. While the percentage of GPs who said they plan to retire in the next three years has fallen since 2015 (from 17% to 11%), the number who plan to change careers has doubled to 15%. 

Dr Rebecca Fisher, GP and co-author of the report, said: ‘These findings illustrate the pressures faced by general practice and the strain that GPs are under. 

‘Right now, the health system is in unprecedented territory and mobilising to meet the challenge of Covid-19. 

‘Too many GPs are highly stressed and overburdened – to the point of wanting to leave the profession altogether.’ 

Only three in 10 reported being at all satisfied with the amount of time they have to spend with patients – significantly lower than with other countries surveyed. 

The average length of GP appointments in the UK is 11 minutes, compared with an average of 19 minutes in the other countries.

Dr Gary Howsam, vice chair of the Royal College of GPs, said: ‘It’s incredibly concerning that GPs in the UK are more dissatisfied with the job, on many levels, than family doctors in other countries. 

However, it comes as no surprise as general practice has been operating under immense resource and workforce pressure for some time.

‘We need more time with our patients. The College has called for 15-minute appointments as standard and longer for those patients who need it – but offering longer consultations means offering fewer [of them] and patients are already waiting too long for an appointment. 

‘We need the Government to deliver their pledges of more funding for general practice and 6,000 more GPs as a matter of urgency – and we look to the forthcoming NHS People Plan for details on their strategy to tackle GP workload and retain our existing GP workforce, so that the NHS remains fit for the future.’