Association of GP wellbeing and burnout with patient safety in UK primary care: a cross-sectional survey

Br J Gen Pract. 2019 Jul;69(684):e507-e514. doi: 10.3399/bjgp19X702713. Epub 2019 Apr 23.


Background: GPs have particularly high levels of burnout and poor wellbeing. Although both are associated with poorer safety outcomes within secondary care, there have been no quantitative studies investigating this within primary care. Furthermore, little is known about how occupational demands, burnout and wellbeing, and patient safety are all associated.

Aim: To investigate whether occupational variables (demands and support) are associated with patient safety outcomes in general practice through their influence on GP burnout and wellbeing.

Design and setting: Cross-sectional survey in the UK between March 2016 and August 2017.

Method: A total of 232 practising GPs completed an online or paper survey measuring burnout, wellbeing, occupational demands and support, and patient safety.

Results: In all, 93.8% of GPs were classed as likely to be suffering from a minor psychiatric disorder, 94.7% as suffering from mild (22.0%) or severe (72.7%) exhaustion, and 86.8% as having mild (37.9%) or severe (48.9%) disengagement. Structural equation modelling (SEM) analyses showed that spending a higher number of hours on administrative tasks and on call, and feeling less supported in their practice, was associated with lower wellbeing, which in turn was associated with a higher likelihood of having reported a near miss in the previous 3 months. A higher number of hours spent on administrative tasks, a higher number of patients seen per day, and feeling less supported were associated with higher burnout levels, which in turn was associated with worse perceptions of safety.

Conclusion: To improve patient safety within general practice changes could be made at both practice and individual levels to promote a healthier work environment for staff and patients.

Keywords: burnout; general practice; general practitioners; patient safety; professional; support; wellbeing.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Burnout, Professional / epidemiology*
  • Burnout, Professional / psychology
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Female
  • General Practitioners / psychology
  • General Practitioners / statistics & numerical data*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mental Health
  • Middle Aged
  • Near Miss, Healthcare / statistics & numerical data*
  • Patient Safety*
  • Primary Health Care*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • United Kingdom