GPs working in the NHS have spoken of their increasing workloads and rising stress levels
Dr Andrew Tressider, 58, a GP based near Chard in Somerset, has already moved away from full-time patient care to focus on other health-related interests including teaching and appraising GP performance.
He plans to work until his mid-60s but may move away from patient care altogether later in his career.
“GP workload has increased by a factor of four over the past few years. It's a combination of the complexities involved, the demand for GP services and people living longer,” he said.
“With recognised pressure on hospitals, more and more work is coming to GPs in primary care. It's an unfettered rise in workload. It's an unsustainable situation.”
One of Dr Tressider's roles is on an action group to examine the mental health of GPs.
“Most GPs have stress levels that are way above acceptable levels. All doctors want to help patients,” he said.
“Many of them work well beyond their contracted hours to try and provide the quality of service patients deserve – but it means they risk being burned out by the job.”
Sharon Gavin-Jones, the practice manager at Queen's Medical Centre in Barnstaple, said the practice had recently recruited to one post, but another one remained vacant, and had been unsuccessfully advertised since early 2016.
She said: “Both recruitment and retention are hard work. The UK is losing GPs because of the pressure they're under – places like Canada are much more attractive prospects.
'GP workload has increased by a factor of four over the past few year'
“It's particularly hard to recruit partners as they don't want to invest in a share in property. Young GPs don't want to be tied to one place – they want to keep their options open to move around. When they qualify, they want freedom to decide what they want to do with their careers.
“GPs are under a huge amount of pressure and the workload demand, and the messages coming from Government certainly don't help.
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“When they are telling people that they should get 24-hour access to GPs, it means that the message of what a GP is for is undermined. It means people are less likely to access pharmacists as the first port of call, for example.“
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Dr Richard Holman, the senior partner at Queen's Medical Centre in Barnstaple, said: “A major problem is GP pay – GP locums can earn the same or more than a partner and don't have the worry of running a practice or have to do any of the huge mountain of paperwork, worry about targets, etc.
“Salaried GPs are similarly too well paid relative to GP partners. There needs to be a clear career pathway in GP with increases in pay corresponding to increased experience and increased responsibility.
“GP seniority pay is being phased out – a crazy plan when so many GPs are senior and may be encouraged to stay on a bit longer if their huge experience and knowledge is recognised.
“No emerging GPs will want to become partners if there is not a clear and significant increase in pay corresponding to the vast extra responsibility and workload.
“Emerging GPs from registrar posts have not 'benefitted' from the same amount of clinical experience as older GPs who worked much longer hours as junior doctors and actually followed patients through their whole illness rather than working short intensive shifts but never, it seems, following patients through.
“It seems to me that the notion of building up a rapport with patients is foreign to these emerging GPs and many seem to shy away from it when this is the basis of general practice.”