BACKGROUND The past seven years have seen rapid changes in general practice in the United Kingdom (UK), commencing with the 1990 contract. During the same period, concern about the health and morale of general practitioners (GPs) has increased and a recruitment crisis has developed. AIM To determine levels of psychological symptoms, job satisfaction, and subjective ill health in GPs and their relationship to practice characteristics, and to compare levels of job satisfaction since the introduction of the 1990 GP contract with those found before 1990. METHOD Postal questionnaire survey of all GP principals on the Leeds Health Authority list. The main outcome measures included quantitative measures of practice characteristics, job satisfaction, mental health (General Health Questionnaire), and general physical health. Qualitative statements about work conditions, job satisfaction, and mental health were collected. RESULTS A total of 285/406 GPs (70%) returned the questionnaires. One hundred and forty-eight (52%) scored 3 or more on the General Health Questionnaire (GHQ-12), which indicates a high level of psychological symptoms. One hundred and sixty GPs (56%) felt that work had affected their recent physical health. Significant associations were found between GHQ-12 scores, total job satisfaction scores, and GPs' perceptions that work had affected their physical health. Problems with physical and mental health were associated with several aspects of workload, including list size, number of sessions worked per week, amount of time spent on call, and use of deputizing services. In the qualitative part of the survey, GPs reported overwork and excessive hours, paperwork and administration, recent National Health Service (NHS) changes, and the 1990 GP contract as the most stressful aspects of their work. CONCLUSIONS Fifty-two per cent of GPs in Leeds who responded showed high levels of psychological symptoms. Job satisfaction was lower than in a national survey conducted in 1987, and GPs expressed the least satisfaction with their hours, recognition for their work, and rates of pay. Nearly 60% felt that their physical health had been affected by their work. These results point to a need to improve working conditions in primary care and for further research to determine the effect of any such changes.