Can Out Of Hours Work Can Reduce GP Anxiety?

It’s long been understood that being a doctor comes with a certain amount of pressure. In the past, this was mitigated by a high degree of prestige, relatively generous salaries and stable working lives. But due to the financial pressures and restructuring of the NHS, this is no longer always the case.

Rates of anxiety and depression, as well as other mental health difficulties, are on the rise across the UK. In fact, mental health charity, Mind, has reported that almost 50 percent of patient visits to GPs are linked to anxiety and depression. What is now becoming more widely understood is the extent to which doctors themselves suffer from these conditions. A report from 2015 showed that the vast majority of doctors – around 85 percent – also experience some degree of GP anxiety, with heavy workloads and long working hours cited as the main causes. GPs are also at a high risk of depression and an elevated risk of suicide, particularly for female doctors.

It’s clear that in order to protect doctors’ health, changes to working practices are needed. This will also have a knock-on effect in terms of the quality of care delivered to patients. Below, we explore whether switching to working for out of hours services can go some way to alleviating the rate of GP anxiety.

GP Anxiety – Some Possible Causes

The structural changes affecting the NHS have a large part to play in terms of the level of GP anxiety. Staff shortages in many surgeries mean that doctors now have much heavier workloads to deal with, a lack of support staff, and the expectation that they may have to stay on late. As a result, rates of stress are at epidemic levels, with many doctors experiencing symptoms including sleep problems, difficulties concentrating, headaches, irritability and digestion problems.

Other factors exacerbating rates of anxiety include levels of support within the workplace. For instance, expectations of stoicism and the perceived need to put on a brave face mean that GPs may feel unable to report their own difficulties. Fears of stigma from colleagues, managers or patients, and the fear of facing disciplinary action of even losing their job are also significant factors. The crucial factor in how doctors are able to manage their anxiety is whether they have access to sufficient, non-judgemental support networks where they are are able to discuss their problems openly. Organisations such as the Doctors Support Network have been founded to address this need.

Working Out of Hours – The Benefits

With staff shortages making it increasingly difficult for patients to get appointments during normal working hours, many now seek slots out of hours. Ironically, this situation creates ample opportunities for GPs seeking to address their stress levels by shifting to more flexible working patterns.

There are a number of benefits to working for an out of hours service. For one, doctors are likely to see a greater variety of cases, including higher numbers of patients requiring immediate treatment. The net effect of this is less fatigue from seeing the same patients with the same conditions day in, day out, often with little change in their symptoms.

In terms of working hours, doctors who are working out of hours are less likely to stay late, or take their work home with them and are less likely to be called to work during regular hours. Therefore, they enjoy a greater degree of autonomy over their hours, meaning they have more opportunities to relax outside of work, not to mention being able to take advantage of working at less busy times of the day.

Explore Working Out of Hours with EBPCOOH

These are just a few of the advantages open to doctors who opt to work out of hours. To fully explore the possibilities that this type of work offers, you may want to take a look at our current vacancies to see if there is a role to suit you. EBPCOOH regularly recruits for GP positions so feel free to get in touch if you have any questions.