GP leaders have launched a new campaign designed to encourage GPs to take a break before reaching breaking point in order to keep patients safe.

The Royal College of GPs says general practice - like aviation and long haul driving - is a ‘safety critical industry’ and that the rules for preventing fatigue in pilots and train drivers should also apply to GPs in their surgeries.

Under the motto ‘a rested GP is a safer GP’, posters are being sent to every GP practice in the UK to emphasise the need for regular breaks in order to prevent over-tiredness and ensure safe care for patients.

The move comes as figures show that more than one million patients are visiting their GP surgeries every day, with some GPs now routinely seeing between 40-60 patients a day.

The College notes that the number of annual GP consultations has leapt by 60 million to around 370 million in just five years, and yet the number of GPs has grown by just 4.1% over the same period.

“Rising patient demand, excessive bureaucracy, fewer resources, and a chronic shortage of GPs are resulting in worn-out doctors, some of whom are so fatigued that they can no longer guarantee to provide safe care to patients,” warned RCGP chair Dr Maureen Baker. 

"GPs are at breaking point and tired GPs are more likely to make mistakes - be it a paperwork error or, in the worst cases, missing a potential symptom,” she said. “It is in everyone’s best interests, to be seen by a GP who is not stressed or fraught and who can focus on giving their patients the time, attention and energy they need”.

Workforce shortfall

The move comes just days after a report by Pulse claimed that around 400 GPs could be transferred from India to England to help plug the shortfall, as doubts grow as to whether health secretary Jeremy Hunt will be able to fulfil his pledge to increase the GP workforce by 5,000 by 2020.  

“Delivering 5,000 extra GPs in five years, when training a GP takes 10 years, was a practical impossibility that was never going to be achieved,” said Dr Chaand Nagpaul, chair of the BMA’s GPs committee, reports the Guardian.

Also last week The Lancet published a study concluding that increasing workloads for GPs and nurses are unsustainable, and that general practice in England could be reaching saturation point.

Researchers from the University of Oxford analysed over 100 million GP and nurse consultations at 398 general practices in England between 2007 and 2014 – equivalent to 4.5 percent of all GP practices in England – and found that the workload in general practice has increased by 16 percent.