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GP practice warns patients about social media criticism after staff abused online

A GP surgery has warned patients it is taking a ‘zero tolerance’ approach - which includes the possibility of patients being deregistered - to the posting of abuse about the surgery on social media after a string of personal messages were made against staff.

The St Lawrence Medical Practice, in Braintree, Essex issued signs warning patients that abusive comments online could still contravene the NHS’s zero tolerance policy on aggressive or abusive behaviour to staff, which could lead to patients being deregistered.

They asked patients to address any compliments or complaints to the practice manager so the issue could be addressed, and added this would also minimise the risk of breaching patient confidentiality.

In an interview with the BBC, practice manager Alison Rudkin said the policy was a response to comments on a local newspaper’s Facebook page which used ‘appalling language’ and mentioned staff by name.

Ms Rudkin told the BBC: ‘Those sort of comments and that sort of language is a form of bullying. We would much rather people come and see us in person if they have something they want to say.’

The practice has had to amend the wording on the sign to clarify that it was a call for direct feedback, rather than an attempt to prevent patient complaints.

Dr Brian Balmer, newly elected GPC negotiator and chief executive of North and South Essex LMCs, said that the zero tolerance scheme has the full backing of the LMC and could see patients removed from their practice, placed in a specialist surgery, and the police notified.

Dr Balmer explained the scheme focuses on threatening behaviour and that individual staff members had to determine if they were being threatened.

He told Pulse: ‘Zero tolerance, we’re absolutely behind. And we have pushed it very hard, more than the NHS does.’

‘This particular practice I don’t know what happened or what was said, clearly criticism especially constructive criticism is fine, but if someone has been abusive or threatening, that’s not.’

‘Abusive language depends on the situation. The zero tolerance is really about threatening or violent behaviour. If people feel threatened, so that is an individual judgement, it’s an individual judgement by the member of staff, not by the patient, and there is no appeal, no review, nothing.’

A GMC report, last month, found that sustained negative media coverage of general practice has been partly to blame for a doubling in GMC complaints since 2007.

St Lawrence Medical Practice declined to comment when approached by Pulse.

Readers' comments (5)

  • 'Abusive language depends on the situation' - thats not true abuse is abuse. too often do superiors turn a blind eye or have an attitude 'the patient is always right' or there has been an unmet need.

    i've contacted the police on one occasion and they were fantastic - it sent a strong message to other patients that we meant zero tolerance and was good for staff moral. reception staff don't get paid enough for the abuse they get from the general public who don't behave like that when they go to tesco's , pc world or barclays so WHY DO WE PUT UP WITH IT?

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  • I agree with 7.44 and think the LMC is being a bit feeble - Facebook comments are in the public domain and if unacceptable comments are being made then the practice has the right (and a duty to its staff) to take the matter seriously and warn/or deregister a patient

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  • Given all the negative reports given out about GP's I am not surprised by the criticism, but patients need to stop and look at a GP's working week. GP's work on average 60 hours per week, no over time, no time off in lieu, they deal with anything that comes through the door and have to remain professional at all times ... quite a task indeed!

    I often wondered, with all this criticism and GP bashing that goes on how they manage to muster up the courage to work to work each day, or why they bother! It has to be the most disheartening job in the world, but they still greet patients with a smile and deal with whatever the problem happens to be ... they have to be super human!

    A fact of life is that we can't like everyone all the time, but publicly criticising any GP is out of order. All surgeries have a complaints procedure available to all patients, they need to use.

    Only when we have lost our GP's and our health service will the truth hit home ... you don't appreciate the value of what you had go until you have lost it!

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  • I agree with the above. Too often patients are rude and abusive to staff but GPs are reluctant to take action, for fear of a complaint. Rude patients are the most likely to threaten a complaint and all complaints have to be dealt with no matter how devoid of substance, or even sense. Patients have responsibilities as well as rights and should be told if their behaviour is unacceptable. In particular the Daily Mail needs to be told that GP workload is increasingly unsustainable, never mind that their pet GP who last worked as a GP 20 odd years ago wonders around claiming to have done all his own out of hours, seen all patients on the day etc etc. Much chronic disease has now come out of hospitals into primary care; diseases that were killers not so long ago are now chronic diseases that patients can live with, but which impose a huge workload on primary care eg diabetes, COPD, even some cancers. This workload will continue to increase as the population lives longer, with diseases that require more and more input from primary care. On top of all of this bureacracy and tick boxing keeps increasing, most recently care plans for every vulnerable patient on our list. This is a huge additional workload. It will have to be done because of the income that will be lost if it is not, but it will add nothing at all to patient care. In fact it will detract from patient care because the only way I can see GPs getting this done by 30 September is by cancelling clinics to do this paperwork. I can't even bear to think about the work that's going to be involved in the Friends and Family test from December - does anyone really think this test will improve patient care???

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  • Maureen, FFT etc has nothing to do with improving patient care, it is forced on us by politicians who are playing vote-catching politics. Medicine is irrelevant to them.

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