The personal cost of caring for others

by Gareth Oelmann

Self-care is vitally important, especially amidst the day-to-day demands of work as a GP

Location: Wales
Published: Wednesday 24 August 2022

For most of us being a GP is much more than a job. We know our patients well and we feel part of the community, but with that comes an enormous responsibility – one we feel every day.

During the pandemic we worked tirelessly to treat and protect the most vulnerable people in our society whilst helping to roll out a national vaccination programme at record pace.

We did this without questioning where the extra hours in the day would come from and who would staff it; we made it happen because we care. We always care, that’s what we do.

Sadly, this level of commitment can often come at a cost to our own health, so often we see how a lack of self-care can result in burnout, overwhelm, fatigue and an impact on our mental wellbeing.

The over-reliance on one person or individuals and the level of responsibility can be overwhelming.

This feeling is exacerbated by gaps in our workforce, which has added to the existing workload and stress as GPs start to experience the pain and frustration of their patients and shoulder the additional appointments.

Pressure on doctors will only grow

Whilst we’re appreciative of the Welsh Government’s comparatively more supportive approach toward general practice, we will continue to meet with policy makers to bring to their attention the immense challenges currently facing the profession.

We must begin with an understanding that at this time, the health and wellbeing of the workforce must be prioritised.

With recent data showing that a quarter of all GPs in Wales are over 60 years of age, and therefore nearing retirement, the pressure placed on doctors in general practice is only going to continue to grow.

Additionally, we are also hearing from our members in Wales that demand upon practices is higher than pre-pandemic levels, with recent BMA Cymru Wales surveys astonishingly finding that only 6% of GP respondents reported that their workload is manageable.

Furthermore, 30% went as far as to say that their excessive workload significantly prevents them from providing safe and quality care to patients. Bringing about more manageable workloads and the sustainability of our workforce in the longer term are issues that are inextricably linked.

Only 6% of GPs said their workload is manageable

A focus on recruitment and retention as well as the health and wellbeing of our workforce is therefore critical to ensure we have an appropriate number of GPs to serve the population, and that they feel supported and able to deliver high-quality care to the people of Wales.

As a committee, GPC (GPs committee) Wales will ensure the voice of the profession is heard at the highest levels and that the health and wellbeing of our workforce is made a priority, to ensure that no doctor in Wales finds themselves unable to continue in their role.

As your union the BMA also has a whole range of wellbeing and support services, and we encourage anybody who is feeling under strain to seek support. Please take a moment to check in on your colleagues’ wellbeing and look out for each other.

There’s always someone to talk to

Support comes in various forms, from confidential counselling services to networking groups and wellbeing hubs with peers as well as Canopi (formerly known as Health for Health Professional Wales) and non-medical support services such as Samaritans.

Specialist services are also available, helping doctors with specific issues ranging from COVID and addiction to financial and legal assistance. Most services are free and available to all doctors and medical students, not just BMA members. Please do not hesitate to reach out.

Please visit the BMA’s dedicated wellbeing support services page and for further information see our extended directory. For all other support, speak to a BMA adviser on 0330 123 1245 or email [email protected]. We encourage you to access any, or all, of the forms of support mentioned above, or encourage colleagues to do so, if you believe your colleagues’ wellbeing is at risk.

Gareth Oelmann is chair of GPC Wales