GP workload could put patients at risk, RCGP warns

The RCGP statement claims that patient safety could be jeopardised on a ’widespread scale’, unless urgent action is taken. They point to the fact that GPs cannot sound a distress signal when overwhelmed or struggling with fatigue, and that measures must be put in place to protect the wellbeing of GPs and ensure the quality of patient’s care.

A report entitled ‘Patient safety implications of general practice workload’ includes a number of recommendations for easing GP workload. The key proposals are: For GPs to have regular mandatory breaks to minimise the possibility of errors; implement a mechanism to identify practices under extreme workload pressures – and for measures to be urgently implemented to relieve these pressures; and a full-scale review of how daily pressures in general practice can be reduced – including ways in which existing bureaucracy and unnecessary workload can be safely cut.

RCGP Chair Dr Maureen Baker said: “GPs will always work in the best interests of their patients – even when they are putting their own health at risk – but ironically this can actually have an adverse effect on patient safety.
“Few of us would voluntarily board a plane flown by a visibly tired pilot or get on a train where we knew the driver had spent too much time at the controls – yet there are no methods or systems for addressing doctor and staff fatigue in general practice.
“Even in other areas of the NHS, ‘distress signals’ – such as red and black alerts in hospitals – exist so that other clinicians can simply declare that they cannot take on further work safely.
“But unless we disrupt patient services – which is the last thing that GPs want to do – we currently have no strategies in place to prevent and reduce the risk of patient harm that might arise from having tired overworked doctors and practice staff.
“With waiting times to see a GP now a matter of national concern, and patients in some areas of the country facing waits of up to a month to see their family doctor or practice nurse, our members are routinely working 11 and 12 hour days in surgery to try and accommodate.
“You might be able to do this for a short time, but when it becomes the norm, mistakes are going to be made.
“Fatigue among GPs is building up, to the detriment of their own health, and over time this could have a devastating impact on the care that our patients receive.”

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