This site is intended for health professionals only

Staff shortages are negatively affecting GP mental health, survey finds

by Anna Colivicchi
17 May 2023

Share this article

Almost half of GPs said that the fear of being sued or investigated due to incidents arising from staff shortages is affecting their mental health, a new survey has found.

The survey carried out by the Medical Protection Society (MPS) also found that 55% of GPs believe that working increasingly long hours due to staff shortages is impacting their mental health, and 93% say they cannot see staffing levels improving in the foreseeable future.

The MPS surveyed 861 doctors, of which 271 are GPs, and nearly half (48%) said the fear of being sued or investigated is also having a detrimental impact on their mental health, and over half (55%) are considering their career in medicine due to staff shortages.

Last month, the indemnity provider found that just over 40% of GPs being investigated by the GMC reported suicidal thoughts, and nearly half considered quitting medicine as a result of the process.

MPS president Professor Dame Jane Dacre said: ‘The fact that nearly all GPs cannot see staffing levels improving in the foreseeable future is a sad reflection of the times and is worrying for patients and doctors alike.

‘Many GPs are also worried about becoming embroiled in medicolegal disputes following adverse incidents arising due to staff shortages.

‘GPs and practice staff are exhausted, fearful and many need support with mental wellbeing issues. When mental wellbeing is poor it is not only damaging for the individual but also jeopardises patient care.’

A GP writing anonymously in the MPS survey said: ‘There are just simply not enough GPs to manage the workload of an aging, complex population. I am exhausted every day and struggle to relax. It is affecting time at home with my family, and I cannot see a way to sustain it.’

Another GP said: ‘I love being a doctor. I love being a GP. But we are desperately trying to stay on this sinking ship and I feel like I may have to jump off soon.’

The MPS is also calling on the GMC to reassure doctors that severe resource constraints will be considered if they are referred to the regulator following an adverse incident.

Professor Dacre added: ‘We would also welcome more reassurance from the GMC to reduce the fear, and the resulting impact on mental health, many doctors feel about being referred to the regulator due to staffing issues out of their control.

‘During the pandemic the GMC issued a statement to acknowledge the challenges doctors were facing and offer reassurance that the extreme context would be considered.

‘They took the same step again last winter. We feel the current staffing crisis warrants similar reassurance.’

The MPS, which has 300,000 healthcare professional members, also said the full NHS Workforce Plan, which is expected to be released imminently, must provide all healthcare professionals with ‘a light at the end of the tunnel’.

Professor Dacre said: ‘The plan must include comprehensive mental health support if we are to retain the many passionate, committed GPs who are demoralised and considering leaving medicine.

‘One of the many problems with staff shortages is the knock-on effect on the exhaustion and mental health of remaining staff. If we don’t tackle this, they will leave, and this will negate any planned injection of new doctors.’

A version of this story was first published on our sister title Pulse.