The poll of over 1,000 NHS workers in primary care, including GPs, practice nurses, practice managers and their colleagues, also showed that work is currently the most stressful area of their lives, ahead of their finances, health, family life and relationships.
The psychological impact of work place stress on primary care workers is significant, with two in five (43%) saying that workplace stress has led them to resigning or considering resigning from their jobs. One in five (21%) say it has led them to develop a mental health problem and almost one in ten (8%) say that workplace stress has led to suicidal thoughts. One in six (17%) also said that stress has led to them taking medication for a mental health problem.
As well as the impact on mental health, the poll also found that stress had a significant impact on workers’ physical health, with eight in ten (83%) saying it affects their ability to sleep and over half (54%) saying it impacts directly on their physical health. Workplace stress has also led to one in six (17%) calling in sick to avoid work.
Primary care workers are also resorting to unhealthy coping mechanisms for dealing with the stress of work, with two in five (42%) drinking alcohol at least once a week to cope with workplace pressure and, despite the known harm it causes, almost one in ten (8%) smoking every day to cope with the pressure.
One of the biggest problems facing primary care staff appears to be a fear of disclosing their stress levels in the workplace. This is perhaps unsurprising when one in three (31%) feel that disclosing that they are overly stressed would lead to them being perceived as less capable than other colleagues. Two in five (22%) also felt that disclosing would count against them when they were considered for promotion.
Dr Simon Braybrook, a GP based in Cardiff who has experienced mental health problems and workplace stress, said: “Stress and mental illness is becoming rife amongst primary care workers and we urgently need to talk more about how we can best look after ourselves and each other. It’s so important because that’s the only way that we are going to do the best for our patients. We can’t give out something that we haven’t got there to start with. I am a better person and doctor through having experienced mental illness and, although I would not wish it on anyone, I think facing and overcoming our mental health problems working in health care will benefit ourselves, our colleagues and our patients.”
Paul Farmer, chief executive of Mind, said: “Everyone has mental health that needs looking after and this is just as true for GPs, nurses and their colleagues in primary care. These figures paint a worrying picture, suggesting that levels of stress among primary care staff are having a real impact on both their mental and physical wellbeing. We need to make sure that health care professionals are well and supported, so they can provide the best care for their patients. Working in primary care doesn’t, however, make it any easier to find the words to talk about your mental health at work. It needs to be ok for primary care staff to talk about it. Like anyone else, they need and deserve support.”
Dr Chaand Nagpaul, British Medical Association GP committee chair, said: “This poll reinforces the BMA findings that GPs and their staff are under unsustainable pressure because they are having to work long, intense hours on dwindling resources against a backdrop of rocketing patient demand. As this Mind survey demonstrates, the inevitable side effect is rising levels of burnout and stress. Many GPs are considering cutting their working hours and one in three told a recent BMA survey they were considering retiring in the next five years. This is not only distressing for the individuals involved, but will seriously limit the capacity of the NHS to deliver quality care to patients.
“The government has recently announced, following BMA lobbying, a new service for GPs suffering from stress and burnout, but we need to ensure all parts of the primary care workforce have access to appropriate support. We also need to address the root cause of the problems facing general practice by delivering a properly funded, fully staffed service that can meet the public’s needs, and ensure that GPs are able to work within safe and manageable limits.”
Dr Maureen Baker, Chair of the RCGP, said: “The current state of general practice is pushing GPs to their limit, and these results show it is having a serious impact on their physical and mental health. It goes without saying that a service that relies on sick and fatigued GPs is not good for patient safety.
“NHS England’s GP Forward View is a lifeline for general practice, and the pledges - including £16m to support GPs suffering from burnout and stress - will go a long way to alleviating the current pressures facing GPs, and in turn improve patient care.
“General practice is a fantastic and rewarding career, and we look to the Government to implement the pledges made in the GP Forward View as a matter of urgency, so that we can keep our profession strong, now and in the future, for the benefit of the wider NHS and our patients.”
¹ Mind commissioned Dods Research to poll NHS staff working in primary care. The poll was conducted online during June 2016, and over 1000 staff took part over a two week period.
² From previous research commissioned by Mind and undertaken by YouGov Plc. Total sample size was 2,015 adults, of which 1,251 were working. Fieldwork was undertaken 29-30 October 2014. The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all GB adults (aged 18+).
Find out more about Mind’s Find the Words campaign or for media enquiries please call 0208 522 1743.