GPs are increasingly turning to mindfulness techniques and breathing exercises to cope with intensifying pressures at work, a survey has found.
Taking breaks to get out in the fresh air is also a wellbeing strategy being used by doctors when they feel overwhelmed by the conflicting demands on their time.
Findings from a survey by the Medical Defence Union (MDU) has revealed that a significant number of GPs are taking more drastic action – 53% have reduced their hours and 48% said they are planning to retire or leave practice in the next five years.
The survey of 348 doctors, a quarter of whom were GPs or GPSTs and the others doctors in secondary care, highlighted that nine in 10 said that workplace pressures have increased in the past two to three years. The same proportion, 90%, said they felt worn out at the end of a working day and 80% said they felt burned out.
To cope, a quarter (24%) said they used mindfulness and breathing exercises, up from 16% compared with findings from an MDU survey conducted a year ago. More than half of respondents (55%) said they took a break by exercising in the fresh air, up from a third (34%) previously.
On a positive note, even amid the growing pressures nearly all respondents – 94% – said that overall patients and colleagues treated them with respect.
Dr Caroline Fryar, MDU director of medical services, said its members ‘are under huge pressure at present as a result of the so called “twindemic” of flu and Covid.’
‘That, coupled with the long waiting lists for treatment that grew significantly during the pandemic, has meant little opportunity for healthcare professionals to recover from this traumatic period,’ she added.
The survey went on to show that 85% of GPs said they felt relationships with patients had become more strained over the past two or three years. For consultants and hospital doctors, the figure was 64%. Meanwhile, a quarter (26%) had experienced a patient complaint or safety incident and a fifth (21%) had suffered abuse or threats.
Dr Fryar said pressures on the system were not only ‘incredibly frustrating for patients struggling to get easy or quick access to healthcare but are also extremely difficult for our members.’
She said: ‘They want to provide patients with the best possible care but tell us they often feel overwhelmed by the many conflicting demands on their time. This is impacting the clinician/patient relationship and our members often bear the brunt of patient dissatisfaction, which itself can be demoralising.’
The MDU has called for ‘robust support’ to be put in place at local level to support NHS staff to ease their stress levels.
MDU members can access a range of wellbeing resources here.
It comes as a growing number of GPs are seeking mental health support for the first time because of the ‘ongoing pressures’ on the NHS.
A version of this article was previously published by Pulse’s sister title Management in Practice