Fear of investigation affects GP mental health, survey finds

19th May 2023 by NASGP

Fear of investigation affects GP mental health, survey finds

Some 93% of GPs cannot see staffing levels improving in the foreseeable future, a new Medical Protection (MPS) survey has found.

And almost half said fear of being investigated due to incidents arising from staff shortages was affecting their mental health.

“There are simply not enough GPs to manage the workload of an ageing, complex population,” one anonymous GP told MPS. “I am exhausted every day and struggle to relax. It is affecting time at home with my family, and I cannot see a way to sustain it.”

Preliminary results of NASGP’s survey of sessional GPs, due out in two weeks, will echo these findings. MPS surveyed 271 GPs as part of wider work with 861 doctors.

MPS President, Professor Dame Jane Dacre, said: “The fact that nearly all GPs cannot see staffing levels improving in the foreseeable future is a sad reflection of the times and is worrying for patients and doctors alike. Many GPs are also worried about becoming embroiled in medicolegal disputes following adverse incidents arising due to staff shortages.

“GP locums, who are expected to provide care at very short notice and are often unfamiliar with the environments they work in, may feel this more acutely. They may also be at high risk of burnout.  

“One of the many problems with staff shortages is the knock-on effect on the exhaustion and mental health of remaining staff and the GP locums stepping in to support. If we don’t tackle this, they will leave medicine, and this will negate any planned injection of new doctors.

“We would also welcome more reassurance from the GMC to reduce the fear, and the resulting impact on mental health, many doctors feel about being referred to the regulator due to staffing issues out of their control.”

Dr Richard Fieldhouse, NASGP chair, said: “The Swiss Cheese Model developed by James Reason demonstrates that when holes in our defence against errors and mistakes align, errors and mistakes become manifest. What MPS’s survey seems to suggest is that GPs now fear this is happening more frequently, with larger holes created by staff shortages, causing systems and processes that would normally help prevent errors and mistakes to break down. With fewer clinical and non-clinical staff, we are having to work harder and longer to be more vigilant in protecting patients.

“This appears to be an important survey at a critical time, and we very much look forward to seeing the full results once they are published, and particularly how MPS’s results will compare to NASGP’s forthcoming survey results.”

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