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Challenge of replacing older GPs highlighted in workload study

GPs in Ireland work an average of 10 hours per day excluding out of hours activity and break times, according to a new study on GP workload.

Published today (2 June) in the British Journal of General Practice (BJGP), the novel study monitored GP clinical and non-clinical workload via a bespoke mobile application (app).

The study is the first of its kind to capture real time GP activity via an app, in this case the US “Time Doctor” app.

Around 9,000 hours of activity were self-recorded by 123 GPs over a six-week period between January 2019 and March 2019, with rural, urban, group practice and single-handed GPs among those studied.

Some 64 per cent of GP daily time was spent in clinical consultation, with the remainder spent on non-consultation activities including paperwork, telephone calls and administrative work.

GPs in the study saw on average of 25 patients per day, with older and more senior GPs working longer hours compared to their junior colleagues.

About 60 per cent of GP partners recorded a work day finishing time after 6pm while 10 per cent of rural GPs finished work after 10pm.

Roscommon GP Dr Brendan Crosbie, leady author, told the Medical Independent (MI) the study revealed that the average consultation time was 15 minutes, in line RCGP guidelines. 

The data, he added, showed the huge workload undertaken by GPs, with many beginning work before 9am, and others starting before 8am and 7am in some cases.

The study authors warn that the current workload “shouldered by older GPs” will need to be distributed among younger GPs and others within practice teams in order to meet the needs of patients in the future.

“This study highlights the significant number of hours being worked by GPs across all demographics in the RoI, in particular by older GPs and those in more senior roles. The pattern of longer session lengths and later finishing times observed among the ≥55-year-old age category highlights the challenge of replacing this cohort of GPs approaching retirement age,” the authors concluded.

“This is of even greater concern given that approximately one-third of GPs in the RoI are over 55 years old.

“Irish general practice is partly funded by a fee-per-service remuneration system; however, one-third of total time recorded in the current study was spent on non- consultation activities. This highlights the significant unseen and often unappreciated workload burden that likely exists in every GP system, regardless of funding mechanism.”

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