The medical director of a new NHS support service for doctors has warned that an increasing number of GPs are seeking specialist help for substance abuse and mental health problems.
Clare Gerada, former chair of the Royal College of GPs, suggested that incidences of this problem are increasing on an almost daily basis.
Referrals to the GP health service have surpassed expectations since its launch in late January, with medics in all fields seeking help in what are described as escalating numbers, according to Gerada.
Stress and heavy workloads are contributing to this phenomenon according to the credentialed individual, with many turning to alcohol and substance misuse in order to cope with life as a doctor.
Gerada believes that it is the decaying and pressurised climate of the NHS that is primarily driving this health crisis.
“We are seeing a lot of mental health problems among doctors. But I don’t think individual doctors are more or less robust than 10 or 20 years ago. It’s the focus on name and blame, the underfunding, the demands put upon human beings who cannot meet them. It’s the idea constantly told to the public that you can see a GP anytime, anywhere,” Gerarda commented.
Official figures indicate that there have been over 400 referrals in the past five months alone.
And a survey discovered that more than half of both salaried and local GPs believe that they have felt unwell due to excessive work pressures and related stress, according to the British Medical Association.
Yet despite the existing climate, the Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt has continually put pressure on surgeries to open for longer hours.
Hunt had hoped to recruit additional doctors to general practice in order to cope with this scenario, yet the latest figures suggest that there are now 34,500 GPs in the NHS; a decline of 0.3% from this time last year.
Furthermore, the British Medical Association warns that around 40% of GPs are planning to either quit the NHS or retire owing to the perilously low morale that is now common in the healthcare system.
Gerada is also medical director of the London-based NHS practitioner health programme, which was set up in 2008 and supports doctors in all specialisms.
And the former chair of the Royal College of GPs indicates that the picture related to stress-related problems has been reflected in this programme as well.
“That’s had escalating numbers right across the board, attending for any mental health problem. When we started, about 30 per cent were drug and alcohol. But that’s dropped considerably as I think we’ve tapped into unmet need, so now it’s stable at about 7 to 10 per cent.”
Responding to the figures, a Department of Health spokesperson emphasised that GPs are valued highly, and that the government has taken measures in order to relieve pressures on the profession.
“GPs are the absolute bedrock of the health service which is why this Government has invested £16 million to prioritise their mental health. GPs and trainees can access free, confidential advice if they are experiencing stress, anxiety or other conditions affecting their mental health and wellbeing.”