Stress levels among UK GPs highest compared to similar countries

  • Date: 27 March 2023

AN international survey has found that GPs in the UK report the highest stress and lowest job satisfaction levels in comparison to GPs from nine other high-income countries.

The Health Foundation published analysis of data from the survey of 9,526 GPs in 10 high-income countries carried out by the US-based Commonwealth Fund. Primary care physicians were surveyed in Australia, Canada, France, Germany, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Sweden, Switzerland and the United States, including 1,010 in the UK.

The survey found that 71 per cent of UK GPs find their job ‘extremely’ or ‘very stressful’, which is the highest of the ten countries. This figures has risen 11 percentage points since 2019. The report also found that only 24 per cent of UK GPs reported being ‘extremely’ or ‘very’ satisfied with the practise of medicine – similar to GPs in France but lower than all other countries.

UK GPs are among the least satisfied with their work-life balance, workload, and time spent with patients compared to GPs in the other countries surveyed.

The survey also exposes the damaging effect of the pandemic on primary care in the UK, with half of GPs believing that quality of care has worsened compared to before Covid-19.

The report does highlight some positives. A high proportion of GPs feeling well-prepared to manage care for patients with long-term conditions and mental health needs. UK GPs are more confident in managing palliative care needs (96 per cent) and dementia (95 per cent) than in most other countries. The UK also performs well on online access to services, using electronic medical records, and use of data to inform care.

Dr Kieran Sharrock, acting chair of GPC England at the BMA, commented: "These findings are unfortunately unsurprising; workload in general practice has become totally unsustainable and GPs are burning themselves out trying to keep up with rising patient demand. It really worries me that so many of my colleagues are reporting that they are stressed and burnt out.

“Many talented and experienced doctors are becoming disenchanted and feel as though they have no choice but to reduce their hours or leave the profession altogether, ultimately depriving communities of the care they need. We’ve now lost the equivalent of 2,078 fully qualified full-time GPs since September 2015.

Hugh Alderwick, Director of Policy at the Health Foundation, said: 'The NHS is not the only health system under pressure, but the experience of GPs in the UK should ring alarm bells for government. General practice is the foundation of the NHS, yet GPs are telling us loud and clear that these foundations are creaking.

'The pandemic has taken a heavy toll on UK GPs, combined with longer-run challenges including staff gaps and rising workload. Just a decade ago, UK GPs were among the most satisfied of any country in the survey, but now they are the least satisfied alongside GPs in France. GPs are stressed out and burnt out – and many are considering leaving their jobs.

'Decisive policy action is needed to improve the working lives of GPs – including to boost GP capacity, reduce workload, and make use of wider primary care staff. The government has promised that its much-delayed workforce plan for the NHS will be published shortly, but the promise of new doctors will be little good if the NHS cannot retain the ones it already has.”

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