England General practitioner

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NHS England extends support service for GPs

Swinton GPs, Male GP working at desk in surgery, M Venables, full consent

Doctors have welcomed the extension of a mental health support service to cover all NHS doctors in England following mounting evidence of work-related stress, burnout and emotional distress.

The extension of the London-based NHS PHP (Practitioner Health Programme) was announced by NHS England chief executive Simon Stevens at the Wounded Healer conference in London last week.

It comes as the BMA has launched a survey into doctors’ and medical students’ mental health in an effort to improve the support available to NHS staff.

‘The NHS is significantly improving mental health treatment for patients,’ Mr Stevens said. ‘But sometimes their doctors need our support too. This new funding will help all NHS doctors by providing a safe, confidential, non-stigmatising service to turn to when they are struggling and they need help.’

The PHP has helped more than 1,500 GPs since its launch in 2017, most of whom were able to return to work as a result. The extended service will help doctors from all specialties in England.

Its medical director, Clare Gerada, described mental ill health among doctors as ‘the last taboo in the NHS’.

‘Doctors are not immune to the pressures we all face,’ she added. ‘We have shown that if you offer an accessible, confidential service, then doctors will come for treatment and not just come, they get better.’

 

Heavy load

The plan to extend the service comes as a report, funded by the Louise Tebboth Foundation, found doctors were at ‘considerable’ and escalating risk of mental ill health, especially GPs, trainees and women.

The foundation was established by family and colleagues of Louise Tebboth, a much-loved south-London GP who took her own life in 2015.

‘Doctors are at considerable risk of work-related stress, burnout and mental health problems such as depression and anxiety,’ the report, What could make a difference to the mental health of UK doctors?, by the Society of Occupational Medicine, states.

‘The risk is greater than that of the general working population and is increasing over time in line with the growing demands and complexity of the job, a faster pace of work and diminishing resources.’

GPs in particular were more vulnerable to burnout – especially emotional exhaustion – and common mental health problems than doctors in most other specialties, the report adds.

BMA representative body chair Anthea Mowat welcomed the extra funding to roll out the programme across England.

‘By ensuring our doctors are happy and healthy, the NHS can benefit not just in terms of staff morale, but also improved patient outcomes, lower sickness absence rates and better workforce retention,’ she added.

'Every doctor should be able to ask for help when they need it. There are some excellent initiatives providing support currently – including the BMA’s 24/7 counselling line and Doctor Advisor Service. What was lacking was a consistent, NHS-funded nationwide resource.'

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