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Monday, 30 April, 2001, 13:34 GMT 14:34 UK
Health chief slams GPs' protest
A threat by GPs to take industrial action in protest at their heavy workload has been condemned as "irresponsible" by a leading NHS figure.
Some GPs have threatened to close their surgeries to mark National Doctor Day on Tuesday. Others plan to boycott paperwork.
The protest could mean that some patients have routine appointments cancelled.
It coincides with a report published by the Liberal Democrats which shows that mounting workloads and staff shortages have led to low morale among the NHS workforce.
Stephen Thornton, chief executive of the NHS Confederation, which represents health authorities and trusts said the planned protest could scare vulnerable people into not seeking medical advice.
Speaking on the BBC's Today programme, he said: "It seems to be totally inappropriate and I would go as far as to say it's unprofessional.
No BMA support
The BMA has refused to give its official backing to Tuesday's protest.
The association issued a statement explaining that while it encouraged family doctors to highlight the current problems in primary care, it could not support action which might be in breach of GPs' contracts. This would run a risk of prosecution under trade union legislation.
Dr John Chisholm, chairman of its GP committee, warned doctors against doing anything to compromise patient care.
He told the BBC: "I understand and share the concerns of general practitioners.
"Many of them are at breaking point because of their intolerable workload.
"It is important that the government listens to their concerns and takes urgent action to give patients the high quality service they deserve and which doctors want to provide - a service that protects patient health and safety, and the health of family doctors too.
"For that very reason, doctors will not wish to take any action that damages the care their patients receive."
National Doctor Day has been organised by Doctor, a newspaper for GPs.
He said: "The fact doctors are doing this is because they have tried talking and have been met with a wall of complacency from NHS directors and when doctors say they can't provide the quality of care they should be providing, no-one listens.
"This is an attempt to get health managers to take them seriously."
A Department of Health spokesman stressed that any doctors who took part in the protest were not supported by their professional association.
He said: "We are already working very hard to improve GPs' working lives and this action is not helpful to that process.
"GPs have a duty of care and they must make sure that patients get appropriate care."
Stress expert Dr Malcolm VandenBurg says that part of the problem is that doctors are "obsessive perfectionists" who are driven to take on more work than they can handle.
Dr VandenBurg said: "GPs have a particular personality profile, they are obsessive perfectionists who can withstand pressure and thrive on pressure.
"The only reason the health service survives is because GPs are the kind of people they are. But they are taking on too much.
"They are overworked, but their solution is to take on even more to prove they can cope. They are unable to say no."
Lib Dem survey
The Liberal Democrat survey found that six out of ten NHS staff say they are unable to cope with work-related stress and over half feel that morale is not good within the NHS.
The findings are based on official surveys of NHS staff opinions.
Mr Burstow said: "The results are stark evidence of how low morale has sunk in the NHS.
"Three years of sticking to Tory spending plans have left staff overstretched and under pressure.
"If Labour is serious about improving the NHS, the Department of Health should start gathering and publishing this information on a national basis."