The BMA is seeking assurances over the future of occupational health services for GPs and their staff amid reports they are about to be cut.
Doctors leaders have written to the Department of Health requesting confirmation of the continuing provision of support for GPs and NHS staff suffering from stress and burnout.
NHS England has confirmed that from April GP practices will have to fund such services for the staff they employ, rather than it being centrally funded. However, NHS England will fund an occupational health assessment for GPs experiencing burnout without performance concerns being raised.
In their letter, BMA occupational medicine committee chair Paul Nicholson (pictured above) and BMA GPs committee chair Chaand Nagpaul say the BMA has received reports of inconsistent access to occupational health services in England.
‘We believe that the stress caused by rising workloads and work intensity that many NHS staff are presently under is adding to the need for appropriate specialist-led occupational health services,’ they write to DH director general, strategy and external relations Charlie Massey.
Time of stress
They add: ‘In spite of the many initiatives to guarantee occupational health services for all NHS staff and at a time when doctors face increased stress, it is unacceptable that GP occupational health services are in jeopardy as the DH and NHS England reviews funding.’
The BMA attaches a briefing to its letter, which highlights the evidence for high levels of burnout among doctors, the benefits of occupational health services and existing DH and NHS guidance supporting the provision of these services for NHS staff.
Dr Nicholson and Dr Nagpaul (pictured right) add: ‘We do hope that you will be able to reassure us that the DH values the role of these services and will ensure that there is better monitoring of GP workload and more consistent access to appropriate occupational health services for all NHS staff.’
NHS England undertook a review of occupational health services across primary care between May and June last year, which found differing provision across the country.
Fitness assessments funded
As a result of the review, NHS England will fund assessments to ensure GPs on the National Performers List are fit and well to carry out their responsibilities as contractors. They will also fund assessments for doctors as part of an early intervention process for stress.
However, a spokesperson for NHS England said it would not fund occupational health services for other NHS staff in primary care: ‘The outcome of this review is not expected to be a cost saving — unfortunately the incidence of health problems affecting health professionals appears to be increasing, therefore we will expect greater use of such services in the future.
‘In this context, however, it is not possible for NHS England to fund access to occupational health services for all primary-care employed staff for all independent contractors — to do this means that NHS England is picking up funding for what is ultimately an employer’s responsibility and we need to prioritise our support and taxpayers’ money on the responsibilities that fall to NHS England with its regulatory function.’
NHS England is also developing a practitioner support unit aimed at supporting all doctors suffering from stress.