Dr Matt Mayer is Chair of the campaign and welfare organisation GP Survival and a representative on the GPC’s regional and sessional GP committees, Dr Mayer sees his role as an ambassador for those at the coalface of general practice.
We all hear about burnout but think it only applies when it is affecting someone else. You may have known a colleague who “burnt out” and had to step back from work, go off sick, or even leave the profession altogether.
In the current stresses of the health system, with all of the pressures in the NHS, burnout amongst GPs is sadly commonplace. It is therefore crucially important that you know how to recognise burnout in yourself and your colleagues. Burnout is particularly common in healthcare professions as we often sacrifice our own welfare for the benefit of our patients.
However, it is important to remember that if we don’t look after ourselves we can’t safely and effectively look after our patients. As the airline industry says: “Put your own oxygen mask on first, before attempting to help others.” The purpose of this article is to explain some of the key signs of burnout and also to point you in the direction of some of the help that is available to you.
Signs of Burnout
Essentially, burnout is an extreme form of work-related stress. It affects people differently and can be difficult to notice, especially in ourselves.
The key features of burnout can be broadly divided into things that you might notice in your job and personal factors – physical, mental, and social. These features often overlap.
The above list is by no means exhaustive and everyone is affected differently. One person may try to cope by cutting corners but another may try to take on too much, setting themselves impossibly high expectations.
What to do about Burnout?
One of the most important things to do about burnout, once you have recognised that you are suffering from it, is to remember that it is not your fault. Burnout does not occur in systems and environments which are functioning healthily, with manageable workloads and resource balance. Clearly the healthcare system in the UK is far from functioning in any such functional way. This is why burnout is so common across the UK healthcare system and not only with GPs. Therefore if you feel you may be burning out is it is important to know that it is neither your fault nor down to any effort on your part or anything you have failed to do.
Once this is recognised and you are honest with yourself about the situation there is thankfully plenty of help available.
Local Wellbeing Services – If you don’t ask for help you are unlikely to receive any. If you feel able to, speaking to someone honestly about this issue can help provide a bit of breathing space. If your workplace has Wellbeing Services available speak to someone about accessing these.
Your LMC – Local Medical Committees are the statutory representatives of GPs. They are funded to provide advice, guidance, and support to all GPs in their area. Who your LMC is depends on where you predominantly practice. LMCs are skilled and experienced in pastoral care of GPs who are struggling for whatever reason. Different LMCs offer different services and it is worth getting in touch with your LMC if you need support to see what they can offer.
The BMA – The BMA offers a wealth of resources such as tools to assess your risk of burnout, as well as counselling services and peer support. The best thing about these resources is you do not need to be a member of the BMA to access them. All of their services are free and confidential and can be found on their website: https://www.bma.org.uk/advice-and-support/your-wellbeing/wellbeing-support-services/counselling-and-peer-support-services
Practitioner Health Programme – The PHP is a confidential health service for doctors who are having difficulties with mental health and addiction. Clinicians at the PHP are experts in caring for healthcare practitioners, recognising the difficulties we face as professionals and understanding how to manage them. If you are registered to practice as a doctor in England you can access their services, for free. Details can be found on their website at https://www.practitionerhealth.nhs.uk/accessing-the-service-for-doctors-and-d
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