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Increasing GP burnout rates risks undermining recruitment and retention

by Jess Hacker
28 July 2021

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Efforts to increase the number of GPs in general practice could be undermined, national bodies have said after a new report highlighted increasing levels of burnout among GP trainees.

The latest annual National Training Survey report, published by the General Medical Council (27 July), found that as many as a third (33%) of trainee doctors felt burnt out to a high or very high degree because of their work.

Additionally, nearly half (44%) said their work is highly or very highly emotionally exhausting, while 42% said they often feel worn out at the end of the day.

This was mirrored among trainer doctors, with seven in 10 (71%) GP trainers often feeling worn out by the day’s end, and 30% feeling highly or very highly frustrated with their work.

More than 40,000 doctors responded to the questions about burnout, with the answers given this year constituting ‘the most negative set of responses’ since they were introduced in 2018.

Professor Martin Marshall, chair of the Royal College of GPs (RCGP), said that general practice has continued to deliver vital care and services to patients during the pandemic, and that this is ‘understandably taking its toll’ on GP trainees.

‘A lot of great work has gone into increasing trainee numbers in general practice and we don’t want to see this progress regress,’ he said, calling on the Government to ‘urgently’ deliver on their manifesto pledge of an additional 6000 GPs to enter the workforce by 2024.

‘This will help to ensure GP trainers have the time that they need to spend with trainees, and that trainees feel supported.’

Meanwhile, Dr Richard Vautrey, BMA GP committee chair, said it is ‘incredibly concerning’ that GP trainers were increasingly likely to suffer from burnout and emotional exhaustion.

‘A renewed effort to protect staff’s wellbeing, while providing practices with the resources they need to meet the growing list of demands they face, will be key as we face the next daunting stage of the pandemic and recovery,’ he said.

Last month, the Government inquiry into NHS staff burnout and workforce shortages heard that NHS workforce planning was ‘at best opaque and at worst was responsible’ for unprecedented staff pressures, and that ‘only a total overhaul’ can solve the problem.

And last year, GP trainee numbers in England rose by 15% to a ‘record-breaking’ 3,441 new starters. However, GP leaders similarly warned at the time warned that recruitment success would be ‘in vain’ without improved retention of the existing workforce.