GPs continue to work when ill, study shows

The study showed that while 62 per cent of family doctors had their own GP, 63 per cent self-prescribed. Photograph: Getty Images

The study showed that while 62 per cent of family doctors had their own GP, 63 per cent self-prescribed. Photograph: Getty Images

 


A majority of GPs continue to work even when they know they are too ill to do so, new research shows.

The author of the study, Dr Emma Harrington, said it suggested there was a culture of doctors “having to work at all costs” which must be re-examined.

In a survey of 87 GPs in the north-west, she found more than 85 per cent worked while sick and more than 82 per cent continued to work even though they were so ill they would have certified a patient as being too sick to work. Just over 50 per cent admitted they worked “when too sick to work”.

Embarrassment
The reasons GPs don’t see a doctor when they become ill ranged from lack of locum cover to a reluctance to take up another busy GP’s time.

Dr Harrington, a GP herself, sent out questionnaires to 141 family doctors in counties Sligo, Leitrim and Donegal. She got a response rate of 62 per cent with 76 per cent of respondents aged over 45. Her findings were unveiled at a recent research conference in Sligo Regional Hospital.

They showed that while 62 per cent had their own GP, 63 per cent self-prescribed. Barriers to accessing healthcare included having difficulty taking time away from the practice (74 per cent), lack of locum cover (44 per cent), family commitments (37 per cent), fear of being treated differently as a doctor (31 per cent) and embarrassment about illness (28 per cent). Nine per cent of respondents had confidentiality concerns.

Respondents were likely or very likely to attend a GP about red-flag symptoms suggesting serious illness such as cancer or heart disease (84 per cent), while 38 per cent were likely to attend for a sick cert, 34 per cent for a general check-up, and just 18 per cent for work-
related stress.

Dr Harrington said previous research had shown doctors had a higher risk of stress and burn-out than the general population.

Her study confirmed self-treatment was “endemic” with many GPs not having a doctor of their own.

“There could be implications for patients because a GP with the flu, for example, may not have full concentration or may pass on the illness,” she said.

A majority (80 per cent) felt GPs should have training in being a patient and 77 per cent said doctors should have training in treating doctors.

The research found 93 per cent of GPs had private health insurance and more than 24 per cent had attended a GP the previous year.