Whose GPs are the most stressed?

3 minute read

In the dubious primary-care-stress Olympics, Team GB is the clear winner and Australia does relatively poorly.

GPs in the UK have claimed the questionable title of the most stressed primary care doctors in a large survey of 10 high-income countries.

Australian doctors accounted for around 320 of the respondents, with the remaining 9200 responses coming from doctors in the UK, Canada, France, Germany, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Sweden, Switzerland and the US.

All responses were collected in 2022, and the research was published by UK charity The Health Foundation.

In terms of overall satisfaction with medicine, Aussies were on the higher end, with just under 50% of GPs indicating that they were either “very” or “extremely” satisfied.

The only cohorts who were more satisfied were doctors in Sweden and Switzerland.

For a time comparison, results from a similar survey taken in 2019 placed Australian doctors at just over 60% of “very” or “extremely” satisfied.

But Australia was not the only country to record a large drop in satisfaction between 2019 and 2022 – in fact, the only country that recorded no change was Sweden.

Satisfaction rates for GPs in the UK, who accounted for about 11% of the sample, fell from second-lowest in 2019 to the lowest in 2022, at 24% indicating they were “very” or “extremely” satisfied with medicine.

Around 70% of GPs in the UK reported being “very” or “extremely” stressed at work, the most out of any country, followed closely by Germany and Sweden.

Australian GPs were ranked seventh out of the 10 countries, with just over half reporting work-related stress.

In the 2019 survey, Australian GPs reported the lowest stress levels of any country, at about 30%.

While the number of doctors reporting stress increased across all countries between 2019 and 2022, Australia’s shot up the farthest.

When asked about different areas of work, UK GPs were least satisfied with their administrative burden, workload and time available to spend with patients, study authors wrote.

“GPs in the UK are consistently among the least satisfied with a number of aspects of general practice compared with GPs in other countries.”

Dissatisfaction with pay, though, was where Australia really stood out.

Just 17% of Australian GPs were satisfied with their pay, beating even the UK, where 23% were satisfied.

The usual suspects – the Netherlands, Sweden and Switzerland – had the highest satisfaction with pay, at around 40%.

Comparing pre- and post-covid, New Zealand doctors were the most likely cohort to say that the quality of care they were able to provide had worsened, followed by the UK and Sweden.

In terms of workload, German GPs take the cake for most-patients-seen and most-hours-worked, at an average of 254 patients and 53 hours per week.

Australia, meanwhile, cruises in at second in terms of the number of patients seen – an average of 120 per week – but is tied with New Zealand at eighth place for hours worked, at an average of 37 hours per week.

According to the data, doctors in the US, Canada, the Netherlands, France and Switzerland all routinely work between 44 and 49 hours per week.

The US is an outlier in that doctors see the lowest number of patients in a week, at 77, but work the second-highest hours, at 49 per week.

Yet Swedish doctors report having the longest routine appointment time, at 25 minutes.

Switzerland and the US clock in at 20-minute sessions, and at the other end of the scale doctors in Germany and the UK say they spend just 10 minutes per patient per session.

Doctors in the other five countries reported average appointment lengths of 15 minutes.

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