DOCTORS are becoming so overworked and tired they could be putting every patient’s safety at risk, the head of British general practitioners warned last night.
Increasing workloads - both during appointments with patients and after hours at the desk - are becoming so prevalent they could have a “negative and potentially disastrous impact” on GPs’ ability to deliver safe and reliable care, the Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP) says.
Hard-pressed doctors dealt with a 19 per cent rise in consultations between 2009 and 2014, an extra 61 patients each during that time, and additional demands being placed on their time to carry out administrative functions.
The RCGP has warned there is “considerable potential for patient harm, such as medication errors and mistaken patient identity, if GPs become persistently over-tired”. Chairman 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.
“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.”
The comments, published in a RCGP report into working practices, comes after a government promise to recruit thousands more GPs and make surgeries open seven days a week.
Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt said he wanted to create flexibility for working patients and allow vulnerable people to have longer appointments. But it prompted a backlash from medics who said they were already working long and often anti-social hours.
The consultation paper launched by the RCGP will be sent to the Department of Health, NHS England, Care Quality Commission, General Medical Council and patient groups for their views in a bid to open up a debate about GP fatigue and burnout, and come up with solutions for tackling the problem.
A spokeswoman for the Department of Health said: “GPs do a fantastic job and we know they are under pressure as our population ages and more people live with long-term conditions.
“That’s why we have committed to make 10,000 more staff available for general practice by 2020, including 5,000 more GPs. There’s also lots of work being done to cut unnecessary paperwork.”