Almost 1,000 GPs self-referred themselves to the GP Health Service for experiencing stress and burnout.

This article is here for GP’s, locums or otherwise as a guide to spot the signs of GP Burnout and how to avoid and deal with it.

We will talk about the symptoms of burnout, how it can manifest and common issues facing general practice currently that are contributing to the rise in GP burnout.

Burnout is described amongst clinical staff as ‘when people give too much for too long and receive too little in return’.

People who are burnt out have reduced morale, are indifferent to, or resentful of their work. Work that was once meaningful becomes a meaningless stream of tasks, with the negatives looming larger than the positives. Emotional control may be reduced, leading to bursts of anger. 

Thinking may be more rigid, or escapist, or filled with hostility towards colleagues and patients. GP Burnout has been shown to have a negative impact on the doctor’s relationship with their patients.

People who suffer from burnout may also suffer from the triangle of:

  • Emotional exhaustion – Feeling unable to give anymore
  • Depersonalisation – Towards patients and colleagues
  • Lack of personal accomplishment – Evaluating


How to tell if you are affected by GP Burnout

 The BMA has some useful tools for doctors to assess whether they are suffering from burnout or are alcohol dependent. You can find these here.

Seven early warning signs of burnout highlighted by the Royal Medical Benevolent Fund in its Vital Signs publication are:

  • The ‘disappearing act’: not answering calls, unexplained absences during the day; lateness; frequent sick leave.
  • Low work rate: slowness in doing procedures, clerking patients, dictating letters, and making decisions; arriving early, leaving late and still not achieving a reasonable workload.
  • ‘Clinic Rage’: bursts of temper; shouting matches; reacting badly to real or imagined slights.
  • Rigidity: poor tolerance of ambiguity; inability to compromise; difficulty prioritising; inappropriate ‘whistle blowing’.
  • ‘Bypass syndrome’: junior colleagues or nurses find ways to avoid seeking the doctor’s opinion or help.
  • Career problems: difficulty with exams; uncertainty about career choice; disillusionment with medicine.
  • Insight failure: rejection of constructive criticism; defensiveness; counter challenge.

Tips to prevent burnout

There is plenty of advice in books and online about on how to avoid stress and burnout. The following may prove useful (some of these tips are taken from the sources listed in the reference section below):

  • If you feel you are starting to suffer from burnout is there anything you can do to improve your work/life balance? Try to evaluate your options and, if possible, discuss them with an appropriate colleague.
  • Eat healthily, exercise and make sure you are getting enough sleep.
  • Set boundaries between your work and home life and try to leave work at work.
  • Set aside time to do something that helps you unwind and that is totally unrelated to work.
  • Be kind to yourself.
  • Informal or formal discussions with colleagues (either in the practice or in peer support groups) about challenges that you face at work can help prevent day-to-day issues from turning into ongoing stress.
  • Self-awareness: being aware and reflective and having a realistic view of what is achievable can reduce frustration.
  • Mentors and formal mentoring relationships can also be helpful for some people.
  • Do not ignore the early warning signs of stress – speak to colleagues, friends or family, or seek professional help from the groups above if you feel you need to.

If you are experiencing the effects of GP Burnout and none of these suggestions are helping then please contact a professional. Other healthcare professionals are experience the same issues so please don’t suffer in silence.  

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