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The reality of GP burnout in the UK (and what to do about it)

Dr Matthew Parker has witnessed, lived and suffered the effects of GP burnout in the UK.

And he chose to do something about it.

Matt was always destined to work in medicine.

His father worked as a pharmacist and his schoolfriend’s parents were doctors.

It gave him the opportunity to undertake some work experience toward the end of his school days and he never looked back.

Matt worked for two decades establishing his career and soon became a partner in a successful practice.

But the demands and pressures of the UK’s health system grew to levels he could no longer tolerate.

He became a victim of GP burnout and immigrated to Australia in 2023, settling in Adelaide.

This is his story.

The changing UK health industry

Only recently has healthcare in the UK become unworkable giving rise to extensive GP burnout, Matt told the Living The Australian Dream podcast.

“Because I’ve worked as a GP for such a long period of time, I’ve seen the best and worst of general  practice,” he said.

“When I first started working as a GP trainee, I was working in a supported environment.”

He then became a salaried GP at the same practice and within three years was offered a partnership opportunity.

In the UK, it is seen as a natural progression.

“Early on and through the middle part of my career it was a very enjoyable place to be. 

“There was a very supportive team around us. We all worked together for the good of the patients and there was a lot of job satisfaction.

“I couldn’t ever envisage working anywhere else.

“But unfortunately pre-Covid, the cracks began to appear and post Covid, those cracks became larger and larger and the job satisfaction was ebbing away.

“My ability to serve the patients that I had been seeing for 20-odd years became more and more challenging and it felt the right time to look at my work-life balance and think about whether there was an alternative.”

Pressures of working in a partnership

Matt said he had underestimated the demands of becoming a partner in a general practice.

“Obviously you accept there are plusses and minuses of being a partner,” he said.

“There’s more responsibility but you also get the ability to decide on the direction of travel with the practice which can be quite rewarding.

“But as a salaried GP, you don’t realise the extra roles and responsibilities that you have as a partner. 

“You’ve got to consider the financial aspects of what is affordable and what isn’t affordable. 

“You’ve got to manage the sickness of staff members.

“You become involved in the recruitment, the hiring and unfortunately sometimes the firing of staff.”

Recruitment, he said, was one of the biggest challenges – one which grew much more so after the pandemic.

“Probably in the couple of years before the pandemic, we were struggling to fill salaried GP roles.

“A higher proportion of GPs coming out of training were taking the opportunity to locum and you couldn’t blame them for doing that really.

“Obviously that had a knock-on effect on everybody’s workload within the practice because locums won’t do the extra paperwork, pathology and all the things that come with that role.”

It was his first taste of GP burnout.

And it pushed him to make an extraordinary decision about his career.

“When the workload was becoming impossible to manage, I stepped down as a partner and returned to where I had been before as a salaried GP.”

But still, there was little relief from the volume of work.

“The unmet demand that came through the pandemic magnified the staffing, retention and recruitment issues that were going on pre-pandemic.

“The only way to manage demand was to do more remote consulting and I felt toward the end of my time in the UK, it was becoming increasingly dangerous to do that. 

“We were cutting corners to manage the numbers we were having to deal with on a daily basis.”

Matt’s typical working day

It was not unusual for Matt to work up to 60 hours a week with few or no breaks.

It was the perfect recipe for GP burnout.

This is what his average day looked like:

6am – wake up if he hadn’t already done so

6.30am – leave home

7-7.15am – arrive at work

7.15-8.30am – file pathology reports, fill referrals, deal with insurance reports, prepare for day

8.30am-12noon – see patients, up to 21 10-minute appointments

12noon-2pm – home visits

2-3.30pm – more paperwork

3.30-6pm – see more patients, another 15 10-minute appointments

6-6.30pm – more paperwork

6.30pm – leave office

7pm – arrive home

“I’d occasionally need to log back in at home to clear what I hadn’t done for the day,” Matt said.

“I’d sometimes have to log in on a day off or weekends to also get stuff done. That was a typical working week.”

The tipping point

Matt’s decision to throw his lot in and move to Australia was more about fate than any single moment of clarity.

His daughter had completed her A levels and was planning a trip to Australia to stay with relatives.

His interest was further nudged when some younger colleagues he had trained within his practice decided they were going to work in Australia and asked him to be a reference.

“That started the process of me looking into what was involved,” Matt said.

“Then bizarrely, my wife and I were in the Lake District and we were sat at a cafe and there was an Australian couple at the table opposite who were there on a coach trip and they were talking about the need for GPs in Australia. 

“It was the right time for us because we have an older son who was sorted out in terms of work and he wasn’t planning on going to Australia.

“The rest of the family realised I wasn’t getting the same enjoyment out of work and that it was beginning to affect my wellbeing and supported that something needed to change.”

Work-life balance

Matt now works as an independent GP in Adelaide, enjoying a work-life balance he could only ever have dreamed about.

“There’s great flexibility in terms of the hours you want to work,” he said.

“If you prefer to start later and work later or have half days, you set the agenda really.

“Whatever works for you works over here.

“Today it will be a 4.30 finish, I don’t have to wait behind to get paperwork done.

“Largely, you’re finished, out the building and back home and you’ve got the evening to yourself.

“I’m living local to the practice so I haven’t got the long commute anymore.”

Matt’s typical day now looks like this:

7.45am – arrive at work

8am-1pm – see patients, 20 15-minute appointments

1-2pm – Lunch

2pm-varies – see more patients with 15-minute appointments

Matt said the timing of when his day ends varies depending on the day.

“I work a long day on a Monday, an earlier finish on a Tuesday and a Wednesday, a standard 6 o’clock finish on a Thursday and then Fridays and the weekends I have off.

“And I haven’t got that massive wad of prescriptions to sign or paperwork to do.”

Advice for others

Matt said he and his family have never been happier and encouraged anyone suffering GP burnout to follow his path.

“It’s difficult when you have family back home but with the wonders of modern technology, you can keep up to date on what’s going on.

“They are planning on coming out to see us and although it’s a long journey, it’s definitely doable.”

His advice for anyone thinking about following in his footsteps is to be patient.

“The main thing to accept is the process does take time. 

“There are several hoops you have to jump through.

“Seek advice and support from colleagues who may have done it before or get an agent to work with you like we did. It made the process a lot easier.

“For me it took about 15 months from the start of the process to starting work here.”

He said navigating the nuances of Australia’s healthcare system can also take time.

“There are obvious difference between the Australian and UK system.

“The medicine is largely the same but there are differences obviously in regard to the billing.

“It’s dealt with at reception so you’re not physically handling any money which was a definite relief. 

“And there are some other rules and regulations around prescribing and putting the codes in for the fees and things that does take a bit of time to get your head around. 

“I’ve got colleagues here who have been through the same process so to be able to lean on them for advice and support has been very good.”

Contact Health Recruitment today

If you are just that little bit envious of Matt for breaking free from the shackles of GP burnout and the UK health system, you should consider following in his footsteps.

Australia is crying out for more GPs and you could be one of them!

Health Recruitment Australia is a dedicated recruitment agency that specialises in matching overseas doctors of all ages with clinics needing GPs in Australia.

There are multiple opportunities available for doctors keen to make the move down under and enjoy everything living and working in Australia has to offer.

HRA will help you find you the right city, region and practice that works for you.

We’ll answer all of your questions, putting your mind at ease to ensure your move is as smooth as possible.

And the best part? We’ll help you complete all that annoying paperwork to have you relaxing at a beachside cafe in Australia before you know it.

Why not start with an informal, no-obligation discussion with the experienced team at Health Recruitment Australia? Contact us.

Enquire now, and we’ll be
in touch shortly!

 

Enquire now, and we’ll be
in touch shortly!