“Worrying” levels of stress among primary care staff

ALMOST 90 per cent of NHS primary care workers find their work life stressful, according to a new survey.

That figure is far higher than the wider UK workforce where 56 per cent of employees reportedly find their jobs stressful.

The findings emerged in a survey of more than 1,000 primary care staff, including GPs, practice nurses, practice managers and their colleagues, by mental health charity Mind.

Almost one in 10 respondents (eight per cent) said workplace stress had led to suicidal thoughts, a fifth (21 per cent) said it had caused them to develop a mental health problem, and 17 per cent said they take medication for a stress-related mental health problem. Two-fifths (43 per cent) said they had resigned or were considering resigning due to work stress.

The poll also found stress impacted more than mental health. Just over 80 per cent said stress affected their ability to sleep, more than half (54 per cent) said it directly impacted their physical health, and 17 per cent have phoned in sick because of it.

A number of employees admitted resorting to unhealthy habits to cope. Two-fifths (42 per cent) drink alcohol at least once a week to cope with stress while eight per cent smoke every day to ease work pressures.

Despite such high stress levels, many staff were reluctant to admit they had a problem. Almost a third said they feared disclosing they were overly stressed would lead to them being perceived as less capable than other colleagues. A fifth (22 per cent) also felt admitting the problem would harm their chances of promotion.

Cardiff-based GP Dr Simon Braybrook, who has experienced stress-related health problems, said stress and mental illness is “rife” amongst primary care workers and that we “urgently” need to talk more about the issue and how to tackle it.

“It’s so important because that’s the only way that we are going to do the best for our patients,” he added. “We can’t give out something that we haven’t got there to start with. I am a better person and doctor through having experienced mental illness and, although I would not wish it on anyone, I think facing and overcoming our mental health problems working in health care will benefit ourselves, our colleagues and our patients.”

Mind chief executive Paul Farmer said: “These figures paint a worrying picture, suggesting that levels of stress among primary care staff are having a real impact on both their mental and physical wellbeing.

“We need to make sure that health care professionals are well and supported, so they can provide the best care for their patients.”

RCGP chair Dr Maureen Baker said current GPs were being pushed “to their limit”, but that help is on its way.

She said: “NHS England’s GP Forward View is a lifeline for general practice, and the pledges - including £16m to support GPs suffering from burnout and stress - will go a long way to alleviating the current pressures facing GPs, and in turn improve patient care.”

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