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GPs keep quiet on violence

Alarming attacks on GPs by their patients are repeatedly going unreported, Pulse can reveal.

Concern over the scale of the problem will lead to a new drive by the NHS security management service (SMS) to persuade GPs to adopt a zero-tolerance policy so perpetrators can be prosecuted. It is also urging PCTs to organise 'conflict resolution' training for GPs in helping handle aggressive patients.

The SMS said it was alarmed after carrying out a pilot study of five PCTs and not receiving a single report of an incident, saying it believed GPs were not coming forward. A survey in the autumn will question GPs on why they have not reported violent incidents.The SMS could not say how many patients had been prosecuted for attacks on GPs in recent years, only that the number was very low.

Until 2002 only 50 NHS attacks in all had brought prosecutions but there have been 800 since then, with a concerted effort particularly in hospitals. Now it is time for GPs to get the same protection as nurses, said the SMS. An spokesperson said: 'It is completely unacceptable that GPs suffer violence and abuse from those they are trying to help. If they report incidents to the SMS at their PCT we can expect to replicate the success in bringing prosecutions in other parts of the NHS.'

The BMA's annual representative meeting passed a motion calling for GPs and other healthcare workers to be issued with panic alarms to alert security staff or police if they got into difficulty.

Dr Beth McCarron-Nash, a GP in Homiton, Devon, who forwarded the motion, told Pulse: 'GPs don't have the luxury of working in pairs. That can be dangerous, especially out of hours.'Medical training should include modules on conflict resolution, she added.

Asked why GPs were reluctant to report incidents, Dr McCarron-Nash said: 'Patients who are unwell are often under stress and not their normal selves. They might have drug or alcohol problems and so GPs give them the benefit of the doubt if they become aggressive.' Her own surgery has panic buttons under GPs' desks, which alert receptionists.

Dr Helena McKeown, a GP in Salisbury, Wiltshire, told the conference how a patient had once threatened her with a knife and only calmed down after a police officer arrived. She said: 'If a panic alarm makes a noise it might mean someone with a knife would throw it. We could have a button on our mobile phones to send a silent call for help.'

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