10 April 2016

Take a Break Before you Reach Breaking Point to Keep Patients Safe, College Warns GPs

A new poster campaign urging family doctors to take regular breaks in order to keep their patients safe is launched today by the Royal College of General Practitioners.

The College says that 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 a banner of  ‘Your safety should always come first’, the striking new poster shows how pilots, train drivers and lorry drivers have limits on the number of hours they can work.

It is being sent to every GP practice in the UK to emphasise the need for GPs and other practice staff to take regular breaks in order to prevent overtiredness and ensure safe care for their patients.

The poster makes the case that ‘a rested GP is a safer GP.’

Over 1m patients visit their GP surgery every day and some GPs are now routinely seeing between 40-60 patients a day.

GPs and their teams are currently making an estimated 370m patient consultations every year – 60m more than even five years ago and the equivalent of 90% of all NHS patient contacts.

Yet over the same period, the number of GPs has grown by a mere 4.1%.

With a growing and ageing population in the UK, more patients are also living with multiple and long-term conditions, meaning that work in general practice is more complex – and the standard 10-minute consultation is becoming increasingly inadequate.

The poster campaign is one of the outcomes of a discussion paper published by the RCGP last year, highlighting growing fatigue amongst overworked GPs as a threat to patient safety - and suggesting proposals to prevent this.

Dr Maureen Baker, Chair of the Royal College of GPs and an expert in patient safety, said: “Most people would not get on a plane flown by a tired pilot, or jump on a train where they knew the driver had already worked a 12-hour day - and most patients would not choose to be the 40th or 50th patient at the end of a long day in surgery.

“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.

"GPs are currently seeing too many patients a day to be safe and at the end of a long day in clinic, we will still have a mountain of paperwork to get through.

"It is fine now and again to have a 'really busy day', but general practice is currently relentless and this is a threat to our own health and our patients' safety.

"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.

"General practice is a fantastic career and GPs make a huge difference to patients' lives right across the country - but we need the resources and workforce to do it well, and safely.

“We hope that our poster will encourage practices to implement regular breaks for all GPs, even as little as 10 minutes,  so that we can catch our breath from the pressures of surgery.“

She added: “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.

“We also hope that it will spur ministers into action to provide GPs with the support we need to do our jobs properly.

“The College is calling for greater investment in general practice and thousands more GPs so that we can keep our patients safe, now and in the future.”
Further Information

RCGP Press office: 020 3188 7574/7575/7633
Out of hours: 0203 188 7659


The Royal College of General Practitioners is a network of more than 50,000 family doctors working to improve care for patients. We work to encourage and maintain the highest standards of general medical practice and act as the voice of GPs on education, training, research and clinical standards.