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Health Insight May 2001:
The pressures on doctors

  A strike by militant GPs is expected to take place on 1st May, with at least 100 surgeries around the country closed to all except emergency cases. The strike, not supported by the BMA, reflects the growing level of anger amongst doctors, particularly GPs, over the increasing workload which they say has resulted from the government’s healthcare reforms.

The BMA is to seek the views of all the 36,000 GPs in the UK as to whether they are prepared to resign from the NHS if the government does not act to cut their workload. The BMA is also concerned at the government’s failure to begin promised talks on new employment contracts for GPs. The Chairman of the BMA’s GP Committee, Dr John Chisholm, said, ‘Workload is already unsustainable, and now we have the promise from government of lots more work coming from all different directions.’ The government drive to cut waiting lists for hospital appointments has led to a shift of much of the burden for post-operative care on to GPs. Government targets in the NHS Plan, including that all patients should be able to see a GP within 24 hours, are likely to increase further the demands on doctors’ time.

The government intends to increase the number of GPs by 2,000 but the BMA estimates that this is 8,000 short of the increase required if all the new tasks are to be done. The association is unhappy that the average time for a consultation has already fallen to seven minutes, instead of the fifteen it feels is desirable. BMA Secretary Dr Ian Bogle has said that government demands for doctors to work at greater speed are putting lives at risk.

However, it is the ever-growing burden of paperwork, which seems to anger GPs the most. ‘We are buried under great wodges of the stuff,’ said Dr Cornel Fleming, London secretary of the Small Practices Association. He will be joining the strike on 1st May.

In a survey conducted by mental health group Neurolink, ninety-four per cent of doctors and nurses complained of stress; Neurolink says doctors are taking more time off work because of stress than because of colds. The NHS Alliance claims that most health workers in primary care feel they are suffering because of ‘bullying’ by the government over impracticable reforms. A separate study on suicide rates in doctors has found that women doctors are twice as likely to commit suicide as other women. The Oxford-based researchers conclude that, ‘The excess risk of suicide associated with general practice is of concern in the light of recent reports of stress and dissatisfaction among GPs.’

Sources: BBC Online, The Sunday Times 15 April, BMJ 21 April

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