GP Fatigue

Last month I attended another RCGP conference, and while I can’t help feeling overwhelmingly happy while being surrounded by 1500 of my peers, the mood was pretty sombre. This is unsurprising as the majority of GPs are in a pretty dark mood. On one hand there’s the government induced trinity of early retirements, exodus of GPs to a better work-life balance to NZ, AUS and CAN, and the lack of new GPs coming through, all made worse by the governments new junior contract and seven day work proposals. You can’t help but feel that our current government is out to bash the profession into submission, but to what intent?

I am struggling to understand what they actually want from us at present. 7 days opening? Not possible due to lack of practising GPs and actually not wanted by the public. We are experiencing an ever increasing demand for our services, with an increase of 19% of GP consultations over the last 5 years. With other words, an ever diminishing number of primary care doctors are desperately trying to cope with an ever increasing number of patients with more and more complex problems. No wonder the London LMC’s survey of GPs showed that more than 50% of their members are close to, or experiencing signs of burnout such as depersonalization and emotional exhaustion.

So, with the GP workforce in crisis and fatigue in doctors increasing the RCGP rightly started to focus on the effects of this on patient safety. Maureen Baker, current chair of council of the RCGP, has a long standing academic interest in safety in medicine and rightly focuses on GPs pretty much being the only professionals who don’t have a working time directive around patient contact. You wouldn’t want to have a tired pilot flying you around, so why are primary care physicians allowed to see 50+ patients over a 12 hour day (and then probably do a few visits on the way home)?

Those tired GPs will need their weekends. An extension of working hours will deliver nothing of value for patients, because seeing a tired, overworked GP on a Sunday morning will neither be safe nor a particularly nice experience.

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