NHS burnout: verbal abuse and physical violence driving GPs out of profession, doctor says

Watch more of our videos on Shots! 
and live on Freeview channel 276
Visit Shots! now
Abuse, aggression and physical violence from patients against GPs are driving family practitioners out of the profession, a doctor has revealed.

General practice will lose around 18,950 GPs and trainees over the next five years unless steps are taken to tackle intense workload and workforce pressures, according to a recent survey from the Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP).

A separate study also found that eight in 10 family doctors who experienced abuse were feeling more stressed now than during the first Covid lockdown.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

The issue of burnout among GPs, nurses, midwives and other healthcare staff has surged over the past few years, exacerbated by the Covid pandemic.

But Dr Shehla Imtiaz-Umer, a GP in Derby, has warned that as well as an increase in workload, verbal abuse and physical aggression from patients is pushing family doctors out of the profession.

Dr Imtiaz-Umer told NationalWorld:

  • GPs leaving the workforce due to early retirement, burnout and relocation to other countries is having a negative impact on staff.
  • Higher patient numbers with reduced numbers of GPs has meant “increased demands on a fewer staff”. 
  • There are increased levels of “abuse from patients leading to aggression, verbal abuse and in some cases, physical violence against GPs and reception staff”.
  • Care delays mean family doctors are holding increasingly complex patients, which adds pressure on staff and contributes to burnout.
The issue of burnout among GPs, nurses, midwives and other healthcare staff has increased over the past few yearsThe issue of burnout among GPs, nurses, midwives and other healthcare staff has increased over the past few years
The issue of burnout among GPs, nurses, midwives and other healthcare staff has increased over the past few years | Kim Mogg/NationalWorld

She said that despite the Government saying GPs need to increase the number of face-to-face appointments, it hasn’t provided “any pragmatic plans about how to increase this” when workforce numbers are continuing to fall.

There are also concerns that burnout will be further exacerbated this winter, with the colder months expected to be “very difficult” due to the ‘twindemic’ of ongoing Covid cases and a more virulent strain of flu, “with no support to help GPs manage this surge in expected demand”, she added.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

There is also an expectation that winter viral illnesses will be worsened due to the cost of living crisis, Dr Imtiaz-Umer said, with high energy prices particularly impacting “the poorest in our society who are already facing significant health inequalities”.

More than 2 in 5 GPs ‘likely to quit the profession in 5 years’

The RCGP survey found that general practice will lose around 18,950 GPs and trainees over the next five years unless steps are taken to tackle intense workload and workforce pressures.

A total of 1,262 GP and trainees responded to the RCGP survey, with 42% saying they are likely to quit the profession in the next five years. Out of the total, 10% said they would do so in the next year and 19% in the next two years.

A current workforce of more than 45,000 GPs and trainees could mean that patients are set to lose almost 19,000 family doctors - the equivalent to more than 15,000 full time equivalent GPs.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Stress, working hours, and lack of job satisfaction were the reasons cited for quitting by 60% of those planning to leave for reasons other than retirement.

The study also found that 68% of respondents said they did not have enough time to assess their patients properly, with 65% saying patient safety is being compromised because appointments are too short.

A UK-wide survey of nearly 2,000 doctors by Survation on behalf of medico-legal organisation the MDDUS published earlier this year found that 38% of GPs said verbal abuse from patients towards them and practice staff had “significantly increased” in 2021. A further 38% reported it had “somewhat increased”.

The survey also found that more than eight in 10 GPs who had experienced verbal abuse or aggression from patients said they were feeling more stressed in early 2022 than when the UK first went into lockdown in 2020 early in the Covid pandemic.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

GPs were also significantly more likely than other doctors to report a deterioration in their mental health and wellbeing over the past year - with 43% of GPs reporting a decline, compared with around a third of all doctors.

What can be done to tackle GP burnout?

Although Dr Imtiaz-Umer said “colleagues across the NHS” are experiencing burnout, she added that “there appears to be little action being taken to address and mitigate this”.

She called for more funding and support for general practice, engagement with doctors and the British Medical Association regarding pay issues, and a resolution to the current NHS pensions crisis.

The NHS pension crisis has led to doctors cutting their hours in order to avoid punitive tax charges, Dr Imtiaz-Umer claimed.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

These would be steps towards recognising the impact of the pressures on GPs, she said, to ensure staff are able to meet the demands of their patients.

A Department of Health and Care spokesperson said: “Deliberate violence or abuse directed at NHS staff, who work tirelessly to provide care, is unacceptable.

“We have provided £5 million of funding for general practices to invest in extra security measures such as CCTV, panic buttons and screens at reception, while the NHS Violence Reduction Programme aims to protect staff and ensure offenders are punished quickly and effectively.

“We are boosting recruitment for general practice and we have invested an additional £45 million over the next year to support the continuation of the 40 mental health and wellbeing hubs for NHS staff.”

Comment Guidelines

National World encourages reader discussion on our stories. User feedback, insights and back-and-forth exchanges add a rich layer of context to reporting. Please review our Community Guidelines before commenting.