1 in 5 GPs report experiencing depression, research finds

GPs are struggling with increased workload, poor IT systems and rising patient expectations

25th April 2023 about a 4 minute read
“Patient demand and expectations have escalated to unrealistic levels, particularly 
 given the lack of resources we have and the long wait times for secondary care. Total phone triage has made us much more readily accessible and increased our work load.” GP responding to survey

One in five GPs report poor mental health, research by Livi, a digital health care provider, has found.

The survey of 154 GPs across the UK found that the most common conditions experienced by GPs in the past two years were stress (66%), anxiety (43%) and burnout (34%), while 18% of those surveyed reported that they suffered from depression as a result of their GP work.

Livi, which enables patients to consult NHS GPs online, commissioned the research as part of its Medical Minds campaign, which aims to improve understanding of GPs’ mental state and to identify potential solutions. The online survey was sent to salaried and locum GPs, as well as GP partners and principals, about a number of topics, including administrative pressures, the impact on professional and personal life, and which experiences they felt were the most detrimental to their mental health.

Almost a fifth of respondents said they struggled with their mental health often or daily, with salaried GPs struggling the most (24%).The main factor cited as negatively impacting mental health was workload, mentioned by 79%. One respondent wrote: “I often work 12 hour days and then also have to log on at home to be able to manage my workload.” Another wrote: “My workload has increased and I’m seeing 30 patients a day face-to-face.”

Nearly a quarter said that poor IT systems also affected their mental state, because poor quality IT reduced the amount of time they could spent with patients. A quarter of GPs reported feeling isolated or unsupported in the workplace often, or on a daily basis. Only a third said they did not require support for their mental health at present.

Technology should allow GPs to focus on patient care

Rising patient expectations played a part in the stress experienced by GPs. One wrote: “Patient demand and expectations have escalated to unrealistic levels, particularly 
 given the lack of resources we have and the long wait times for secondary care. Total phone triage has made us much more readily accessible and increased our work load.”

Dr Harriet Bradley, Medical Director at Livi, said that the report “continues to demonstrate a strong correlation between the wellbeing of GPs and the current workforce crisis. We want this report to contribute and build on the growing body of research on the mental wellbeing of healthcare professionals. If we get this right then we can build a sustainable and resilient culture that will preserve the long-term future of general practice.”

Livi also asked GPs about what changes were needed to improve their health and wellbeing. The answers were refined into seven core recommendations that would improve system resilience and set realistic national standards for the number of patient contacts a day.

The seven recommendations were:

  1. Acknowledge the reality of the crisis. With fewer GPs working in clinical medicine, the system must focus on retaining the existing workforce and look at using alternative health professionals, such as advanced nurse practitioners, to fill the gap.
  2. Change the narrative. The government and media should implement a cultural shift to set patient expectations.
  3. Improve ways of working. GPs should be given more flexibility in terms of working patterns and family-friendly hours.
  4. Provide more support for GPs. GPs should be able to access mental health support more easily. The NHS should introduce clinical mentoring programmes to minimise isolation in the workplace as well as training to build resilience.
  5. Enable GPs to focus on patient care. Technology should be used to automate tasks, reduce the administrative burden and provide additional clinical resources for extra capacity when there are staff shortages.
  6. Simplify bureaucracy. Outdated technology should be updated to improve interoperability and boost communication across the system for referrals and care follow-ups.
  7. Support population health management. Getting technology right can help to streamline ways of working and facilitate a long-term preventative approach to population health to improve outcomes for everyone. “Increasing automation and adoption of smart data can support a reduction in chronic disease burden,” the report says. 

The next step in Livi’s Medical Minds campaign will be a series of roundtable events in the UK and France, which has similar workforce challenges

FCC Insight

The Livi research shows that the current demands on GPs are unsustainable – GPs are seeing more patients than ever and working 12 or more hours a day. We need to train more GPs, but we also need to find ways to ease the burden, whether through improved IT systems to automate routine tasks or sharing some workload with other health professionals such as nurses and pharmacists. This is not an insoluble problem, but if it is not addressed, it will only get worse.