Dr Mary McCarthy: GPs tell of increasing workloads

This week, general practitioners from all over the United Kingdom have been meeting in Belfast to discuss the current problems in their profession.

Wherever they worked or lived, GPs had the same difficulties – there are too few general practitioners for the population they serve.

It is increasingly difficult to get a GP appointment despite the fact GPs are working harder than ever and have offered an extra million appointments this year. Doctors are reducing the sessions they are working because of a workload that is affecting their physical and mental health.

We heard moving speeches from GPs whose colleagues have suffered depression through workloads that were intolerable and complaints that have caused deep distress to the doctor and to the practice staff.

Even when these complaints have been found to be groundless, the time taken to resolve them has often been two or three years and in the meantime the doctor must continue working with the threat hanging over the whole practice. There are some disturbing figures on this. Some 400 doctors have committed suicide and the risk of a woman doctor committing suicide is four times greater than other working women.

Other doctors talked of the culture of bullying that seems to be pervasive in the NHS. Bullying and harassment, in any organisation, comes from the top, and financial constraints, against a background of unachievable targets, leads to managers and other leaders behaving badly.

Rudeness and incivility are symptoms of a system under stress and the NHS has been chronically underfunded for many years. Staff have left, unable to work in an unhelpful environment, which then increases the pressure on those left behind.

We also heard about the effects Brexit will have on the NHS. Drug shortages, already rife in the NHS, will increase.

We risk losing the EU residents who staff our hospitals and GP surgeries, and doctors from Northern Ireland explained graphically their difficulties.

Many people who work in the NHS live across the border in the Republic of Ireland and may not be able to get into work on time and one doctor describes how, if she needed to visit a patient a few miles away in Northern Ireland, she would have to cross the border four times.

* Dr Mary McCarthy has worked at Belvidere Surgery in Shrewsbury for more than 20 years. She is chairman of the local medical committee and represents Shropshire, North Staffordshire and South Staffordshire on the General Practitioners Committee of the BMA.

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