Leader comment: GP burnout is a threat to us all

Stress has become a serious issue for many GPs
Stress has become a serious issue for many GPs
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Patients must do their bit to take the pressure off GPs amid a recruitment crisis in Scotland.

One day your life may depend on a single individual. That person will have been extremely well trained and will have only your best interests at heart.

However, unfortunately, there’s also a good chance your local GP will be stressed out, in a hurry and possibly quite close to the end of their tether. And that’s not exactly the best frame of mind to make what could turn out to be a life-or-death decision.

Today The Scotsman publishes a frank account by Dr Punam Krishan of how she burned out because of the stress of the job. She writes that she “cannot even begin to describe the pride” she felt at achieving her “lifelong goal” of becoming a GP after ten years of training. But just six years later, she quit her GP partnership because of the pressure and now works as a locum.

READ MORE: Leader comment: Scotland’s message to SNP – fix the NHS

Alarmingly, she says the “state of emotional, mental and physical exhaustion caused by unresolved, excessive and prolonged stress” that proved to be too much for her is now the “mental state of the majority of GPs in Britain today”.

And Dr Krishan is certainly far from alone in raising such concerns. Little wonder then that there is a GP recruitment crisis in Scotland with the Rural GP Association of Scotland warning that healthcare in country areas is “entering freefall”.

General practitioners are essentially the gatekeepers of the NHS. If they are not able to make good decisions, then not everyone who needs treatment will get in the door.

One major reason for this, as Dr Krishan describes, are ‘patients’ who are not really ill at all – like the angry man who demanded an emergency appointment for a “tickly cough” on what was for her a day from hell. Some may feel sympathy for the worried well, but when their hypochondria means people who might be seriously ill have to wait weeks for an appointment – even dying as they wait – such feelings are misplaced. We should perhaps instead think of them as being akin to those who report false alarms to the fire brigade.

There is a finite number of GPs in Scotland, a finite number we can afford, and they cannot cope with our seemingly infinite demand.

So, people of Scotland, if you are feeling a bit under the weather, try calling NHS 24 or going to see a pharmacist before demanding to see your GP. Your health, as well as theirs, is at stake.

READ MORE: Lesley Riddoch: Let’s remember how good Scotland’s NHS actually is