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GPs to be covered by new 'zero tolerance' policy against abuse from patients

GPs will be protected by a new 'zero tolerance' policy aiming to reduce the number of assaults on NHS staff.

The measures are part of a new violence reduction strategy launched by the Department of Health and Social Care to better protect NHS staff from attacks and abuse.

A new zero-tolerance approach will be adopted and a partnership between the NHS, police and Crown Prosecution Service will aim to see offenders prosecuted quickly.

The strategy, which health secretary Matt Hancock will launch today in a speech at the Royal College of Nursing, will see NHS staff given training on how to deal with a violent situation, and victims of violence will be able to access mental health support.

One in eight NHS employees have experienced violence from patients, their relatives or the public in the past year, which is the highest figure for five years, according to the latest NHS staff survey. 

Going forward, the CQC will scrutinise NHS trusts based on the quality of plans to reduce violence against staff.

Last year, an investigation by Pulse publisher Cogora revealed that two thirds of GPs had experienced some form of abuse from patients.

Mr Hancock said: ‘NHS staff dedicate their lives to protecting and caring for us in our times of greatest need and for any one of them to be subject to aggression or violence is completely unacceptable.’

‘I have made it my personal mission to ensure NHS staff feel safe and secure at work and the new violence reduction strategy will be a key strand of that.’

‘We will not shy away from the issue – we want to empower staff and give them greater confidence to report violence, knowing that they will see meaningful action from trusts and a consistent prosecution approach from the judicial system.’

The new measures follow the Assaults on Emergency Workers (Offences) Bill, which increased the maximum prison sentence for assaulting an emergency worker from six months to a year.

The BMA welcomed the new measures and called for tougher sentences to try and reduce the number of assaults on NHS staff.

BMA junior doctors committee chair, Dr Jeeves Wijesuriya, said: ‘The BMA has long been concerned about the risk and impact of violence on NHS staff and is particularly concerned by the rising numbers of attacks taking place against frontline staff…

‘We believe that tougher sentences for attacks on emergency service workers will make a real difference in reducing the number of serious incidents that staff are subjected to and we support the violence reduction strategy, which sends out a strong deterrent message to those who wilfully assault NHS staff.’

Following a change to the GP contract this year, practices are able to refuse to register patients if they have a violent flag against their record. They can also remove ‘mistakenly registered’ violent patients under the normal procedures.

BMA GP Committee chair Dr Richard Vautrey said: 'GP practice staff are all too often subjected to unacceptable abuse and even attacks from patients who they are trying their best to help.

'As pressures increase within the NHS, with waiting times increasing as practices and hospitals struggle to manage rising workload within inadequate funding, it can be understandable why patients can be frustrated but that can never justify taking that frustration out on those on the frontline trying to care for them. 

'This year we secured improvements to the way the violent patient/safe haven DES operates but there are still too many incidents where commissioners are slow to support practices seeking to take appropriate action when patients overstep the line with their behaviour, and the initiative announced today must address this.'

Readers' comments (17)

  • Cobblers

    Saj 1:54pm. Patient 1 with a history of serious violence under court order should have been SAS scheme. No argument.

    Patient 2 allocated and violent and a home visit? Are you bloody mad? Just paint the word "VICTIM' on your forehead.

    NHSE are not your friend EVER. They don't want to know and frankly they don't care.

    Has anyone sought legal help to sue those allocating violent patients who then cause harm to that GP or staff? Seems open and shut case m'lud.

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  • The most pressing need is for legal protection for clinicians, hospitals and GP surgeries if care is denied. Everyone (staff, hospitals, surgeries) are too worried about the risk of litigation or complaints if a medical problem develops after denying treatment to a violent patient.

    The law needs to change so that
    1 - A clinician who feels a threat (regardless of the nature of that threat) is protected from litigation, complaints and GMC/ NMC sanction if they change or withdraw treatment as a result of violence (add racism/ sexism/ etc).
    2 - That must include those cases where an illness contributes to the violence - for example delirium, head injury or mental health. Because without that extension a clinician will still be worried about stopping treatment and put themselves at risk.

    There must be no obligation on the clinician to 'prove' that the threat existed or was significant, or else the clinician will be too worried about withdrawing treatment.

    I have only seen one case of a patient being chucked out of hospital (when a house officer) and that was for severe racism (jumping around making monkey noises.... with a charcot foot as well). I have seen 100s of cases of violence.

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  • Cobblers at 4.36pm makes an interesting point about the potential legal liability of those allocating violent patients. Violent/'challenging' patient clinics seem to be closing, presumably for financial or staffing reasons. Perhaps prior to allocation such patients should all be assessed by a forensic psychiatrist regarding their current level of risk. Waiting time and cost might encourage reopening of the clinics!

    GPs are (sometimes inappropriately) much more tolerant of such behaviour than hospitals where there is an increasing tendency to call the police for quite trivial reasons. Any new zero tolerance policy will no doubt be implemented vigorously in secondary care - carted off to the cells for looking at a nurse with a grumpy facial expression. However, as others have said, we need the right to refuse to see violent, aggressive or threatening people without fear of litigation or primary care will be no better off.

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  • Any 0 tolerance policy whilst healthcare provision is socialised, and quangos like the GMC and government involved won't work. Scrambling for a solution? Just look at places where abuse against healthcare professionals is almost non-existent. Same places where the public are directly and at least partially responsible for their access to health care. Where the professional regulator is much more limited in their role. If you or your family member have to pay for it via insurance/co-payments, you would value the service more. And in the cases of mental health issues, there are specialised services i.e. SAS schemes, both privately and publicly funded

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  • It should also cover gratuitous complaints. There should be legal redress. The whole complaints procedure is ridiculously slanted towards patients. We should also be able to chuck patients off lists more easily.
    We abase ourselves because we have to and the way the system works it makes our lives easier.
    "I'm a complete idiot and you are absolutely marvellous" is our normal response and it's sickening.

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  • quite agree with policenthieves:= the complaints system is not fit for purpose.
    There should be the right to demand an apology for a malicious complaint and we should have the right to have them removed from our list. The biased complaints system is highly damaging to morale as it always seems so unfair.

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  • No, GPs will not be covered by this, on Practice staff. Lookup CCG and GMC guidelines, GPs are excluded.

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