GPs are like pilots and will make errors if overworked, warns doctors’ leader

·2-min read
Doctors have faced criticism from patients and politicians over access to face-to-face appointments - Anthony Devlin/PA
Doctors have faced criticism from patients and politicians over access to face-to-face appointments - Anthony Devlin/PA

GPs are like airline pilots and will make mistakes if forced to work overtime, the chairman of the Royal College of GPs has said.

It comes after family doctors faced criticism from patients and politicians over access to face-to-face appointments.

This week the Government announced an extra £250 million for GP surgeries to increase capacity and told them they must “respect preferences” for in-person care.

Surgeries failing to offer an adequate level of face-to-face appointments will not be able to access the fund.

Prof Martin Marshall said working part-time as a GP was now the “norm” and many were also educators, researchers or clinical managers.

“But actually, increasingly it’s because the nature of general practice has become so intense and so stressful it’s really very difficult for anybody to work extended days,” he told the College’s annual conference in Liverpool on Friday.

He said “the nature of clinical practice” meant a three-day working week could amount to a 40-hour week for a family doctor.

GPs 'need the same understanding' as airline pilots

Recalling a conversation with a “senior Conservative Party politician”, Prof Marshall said he was asked: “Why don’t you just tell your GPs to work harder?”

“When I picked myself up off the floor, I pointed out to him that forcing people to work more days in the week when they're already feeling vulnerable, they're already concerned that the pressures of the job are going to risk them making diagnostic errors, prescribing errors, is just complete nonsense,” he said.

“Pilots fly for 30 to 32 hours a week, and they do that because they’re in a safety critical occupation. We’re in a safety critical occupation as well – we need the same understanding.”

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