Intended for healthcare professionals

News Roundup [abridged Versions Appear In The Paper Journal]

GPs threaten to leave NHS as stress levels rocket

BMJ 2001; 322 doi: (Published 28 April 2001) Cite this as: BMJ 2001;322:1014
  1. Zosia Kmietowicz
  1. London

    Family doctors in the United Kingdom are considering leaving the NHS because of intolerable working conditions.

    The BMA's General Practitioners Committee voted last week to ballot all its 36 000 members on whether they would resign if a new contract cannot be agreed with the government in the next 12 months. The results are due at the beginning of June, just days before the date expected for the general election, 7 June.

    The mass walk out is a protest against excessive workload and bureaucracy imposed by what the committee describes as a relentless programme of new initiatives and targets in the past few years, which have seen stress levels rocket and morale plummet among GPs.

    “A new improved contract would help GPs and be in the best interests of their patients' health and safety,” said Dr John Chisholm, chairman of the GPs committee. “I believe family doctors should no longer have to endure intolerable workloads because of an intolerable contract. The time for talking has expired, and now it is time for action.”

    GPs complain that, while their responsibilities have increased, time available for patients is being eroded. The 15 minute consultation is now a thing of the past, with the average appointment now whittled down to seven or eight minutes.

    In addition, general practice is drastically understaffed. The BMA estimates that an extra 10 330 GPs are needed in the United Kingdom to fulfil the duties now being asked of family doctors, but only 2000 extra GPs have been promised in the NHS plan for England by 2004.

    While they wait for negotiations over their new contract to begin, GPs have been advised by the committee on how they can reduce their workload. The measures include not registering new patients, limiting list sizes, and checking which patients need screening for breast and cervical cancer only if time permits.

    In a separate protest against increased pressure on GPs, family doctors from some 1000 practices who are members of the Small Practices Association are due to take their own action on 1 May in the form of a strike. Representations of the association and three patients delivered a petition with 17 000 patients' signatures to the prime minister last week in support of the doctors' protest against working conditions. Dr Cornel Fleming, an executive member of the association, has hired a locum for the day so that he can make his feelings known at Westminster. “What we have now is bureaucracy gone completely nuts. I want to be able to be a GP, not a pen pusher,” he said.