GPs have reported ‘better than average’ experiences of being supported by non-clinical management despite them struggling with unmanageable workloads, dissatisfaction and burnout.
The General Medical Council’s (GMC) State of Medical Education and Practice 2023 report, which surveyed more than 4,000 doctors across primary and secondary care, showed that GPs were faring particularly badly when it comes to the risk of burnout, workload demands and intensity of work.
Yet, 67% of GPs felt supported by their non-clinical management compared with 42% of all doctors.
A slightly larger-than-average proportion of GPs also reported that they felt supported by their immediate colleagues (85% compared with an average of 82% for all doctors) and part of a supportive team (80% compared with an average of 73%).
These ‘high levels of support’ was likely preventing the risk of burnout being even higher, it said, because it may be a factor helping them manage their high workloads. ‘If so, there may be useful insights for others to take away from examining how GPs build strong teams,’ the report added.
In terms of workplace experiences for GPs, however, the report said these were ‘poor’ and that this was causing ‘causing issues filling vacancies and reducing service capacity’.
In 2022, 38% of GPs said they were satisfied, fewer than other doctors and down from 51% in 2021.
More than half of GPs (55%) were categorised as struggling with their workload, compared with 38% of all doctors.
And 45% of GPs reported experiencing compromised patient safety or care, with 62% finding it difficult to provide sufficient patient care each week.
GPs also had more high-intensity days (78%) than other doctors and fewer low-intensity days (3%), the analysis showed.
Only one in 10 GPs were doing well (defined as not regularly working beyond rostered hours and feel able to cope with workload), compared with a quarter of all doctors.
More doctors than ever said they were likely to leave the UK workforce and had taken ‘hard steps’ towards doing so, it added.
The Government and NHS must take ‘urgent action’ to break the ‘vicious cycle’ of unmanageable workloads, dissatisfaction and burnout that is causing GPs to quit, the GMC has warned.
However, its report also set out immediate, practical actions employers can take to break the vicious cycle too and increase doctors’ sense of value as well as improve wellbeing and satisfaction.
- Addressing the physical work environment and providing space for rest breaks that are away from patients; facilities for hot drinks and food; and safe and subsidised or free car parking.
- Ensuring rota design is fair and flexible and consider life events and personal circumstances. Planners should always handle individual preferences and circumstances fairly.
- Building strong teams by, for example, planning ice-breaking activities for new teams; organising staff events such as a Christmas party; and providing formal support, such as mentoring.
- Developing a ‘high quality’ compassionate culture, so encouraging positive everyday behaviours, improving communication between colleagues and taking proactive steps to tackle bullying and discrimination.
- Providing enhanced learning environments with protecting training time.
- Developing induction and onboarding to help promote a sense of belonging.
Longer-term priorities for policymakers and leaders include making work intensity more sustainable with a clear need to increase overall capacity; increasing training capacity with doctors supported and given protected time to train others; strengthening support for primary care by addressing pressures in general practice to protect patient safety and staff wellbeing; and considering how more trainee doctors can be encouraged to choose primary care as a specialism.
Charlie Massey, the GMC’s chief executive, said: ‘Addressing these concerns, and improving doctors’ wellbeing, requires concerted action across the UK healthcare system. Steps are needed now to retain the doctors we have. Without them, the vicious cycle will intensify, patients will suffer, and doctors will increasingly risk burnout and fatigue.’
Professor Kamila Hawthorne, chair of the RCGP, said the findings ‘come as no surprise’ and called for a ‘bold new plan’ from the government, adding: ‘It is not too late to turn this dire situation around.’
She added: ‘Our patients deserve good quality, safe care and GPs need to be able to deliver this without compromising their own health and wellbeing. We need urgent action to reverse the hard slog of general practice and restore it to the fulfilling and stimulating career that GPs trained for.’