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Three out of four GPs say morale is worse than when they began practising

by Lea Legraien
28 February 2020

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More than half of GPs in the UK have said their morale is ‘much worse’ than when they first started practising, with a further quarter saying it is a ‘little worse’, according to a new survey.

The survey, conducted by our sister publication, Pulse, of 798 GPs showed almost one in five GPs feel their morale is ‘very low’ today, with a further 34% saying it is ‘fairly low’.

GP respondents said that factors such as increased workload and bureaucracy, unrealistic expectations placed on the profession and rising patient demand have all contributed to decreasing morale levels.

Pulse asked GPs how they would rate their morale now compared with when they first started practising.

Among those who started their career in 1991-95, 71% rated their morale as ‘much worse’ now, with 65% of GPs who began working in 1996-2000 saying the same.

Meanwhile, around 50% of those who started practising before 1985 agreed their morale had never been so low. 

The survey of 798 GPs showed that:  

19% of GPs rated their morale as ‘very low’ now;

34% said their morale was ‘fairly low’;

54% believed their morale was ‘much worse’ now than when they first started practising;

Half of the GPs who started practising prior to 1985 said their morale had gotten much worse.

Former RCGP chair and leading GP burnout expert Professor Clare Gerada argued that it is more difficult to be a GP now than 30 years ago.

She told Pulse: ‘GPs are now expected to do far more. I used to start at 8am, finishing at 11am and going back for my evening surgery at 3.30pm. Now you start at 8am and you barely finish your morning surgery before the evening one starts.

‘There’s a lot more that we have to do. We cover a lot more and patients are more complex, with more comorbidities than ever before. When I started, it was unusual to have somebody over 70 let alone over 90.’

Dr Paul Frisby, a 52-year-old GP, said it was easier to be a GP in the 1990s when the workload was more manageable and patients were not so complex. 

He said: ‘My workload is higher now than it was 25 years ago. Consultations were simpler, with very few social issues to manage and very little chronic disease management.  

‘General practice is, without a doubt, at its lowest point. In 25 years of full-time general practice experience, I’ve never known everyone to be under so much pressure and be so demoralised.’

He added: ‘I don’t think it’s a great job, I think it’s a deadly job and I expect it to kill me. I still enjoy spending time with patients but the way the media and the Government has treated me has completely indicted me.’

Echoing his comments, Dr Greg Roberts, a retired GP, said: ‘It was better before, you could do what you wanted. You didn’t have to fill in loads of unnecessary paperwork, certainly appraisal where you have to do hours and hours sitting on a computer filling in forms and ticking boxes, which you haven’t really got the time to do. You want to look after patients not tick boxes on a screen. There is more admin work.

‘When I started you would apply for a job and there would be many applicants for each job and there was competition. Now, you can walk into any [GP] job you want and it’s the other way around, there are hundreds of jobs for one applicant.’

An NHS England spokesperson said: ‘While this is a small survey of only a snapshot of GPs, the NHS is working through the new GP Contract to expand the size of the general practice workforce in order to deliver better, more accessible services to patients, backed by financial and educational support to family doctors and building on progress which means that there are more GPs in training than ever before.’

Full results

How would you rate your professional morale now?

Rating% of GPs
Very high3%
Fairly high15%
Fairly low34%
Very low19%

How would you rate your morale compared with when you first starting practising?

Much betterLittle betterRoughly sameLittle worseMuch worse
Pre 198612%8%10%20%50%

The Pulse survey was launched in February 2019, collating responses using the SurveyMonkey tool. The 33 questions asked covered a wide range of GP topics, to avoid selection bias on one issue. The survey was advertised to our readers via our website and email newsletter, with a prize draw for £250 John Lewis vouchers as an incentive to complete the survey.