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Two thirds of GPs experience abuse from patients as rates rise

Exclusive Rising numbers of GPs have experienced some form of verbal, written or physical abuse from patients in the past 12 months, an investigation has revealed.

The Primary Concerns report, from Pulse's publisher Cogora, surveyed almost 2,000 primary care workers, including 600 GPs, finding that (66%) have experienced abuse - a rise of seven percentage points from the year before.

Broken down by type of abuse, some 4% of GPs have experienced physical violence from patients in the past 12 months, compared to 2% the previous year.

But in the same time period, well over half (61%) of GPs reported having experienced verbal abuse - an increase from 55% the year before.

Around a quarter of GPs (24%) also received written abuse, up from 17% in 2015.

But compared to other primary care staff GPs remain less affected by abuse than nurses and practice managers.

Practice managers were the most likely to have experienced all forms of abuse and just 9% said they had not experienced any form of abuse by patients in the last 12 months, a decrease from 26% in 2015.

There was a particular spike in written abuse directed at practice managers, including messages online and on social media, which increased from 10% to 44%.

The one slight sign of improvement was in physical abuse of nurses, with only 7% of nurses reporting they had experienced physical abuse in 2016 - down from 10% in 2015.

Across all primary care workers, the numbers experiencing abuse were reported as:

  • Verbal - 64% (up from 54%)
  • Physical – 6% (unchanged)
  • Written – 24% (up from12%)

GP leaders said the findings were very ‘concerning’ and that NHS needed to be sure it ‘backed up’ staff who were faced with abuse of which there should be zero tolerance.

But, perhaps surprisingly, the researchers found that physical abuse had 'no effect on morale', although verbal abuse was rated higher and, again, most acutely felt by practice managers.

The leading contributor to low morale among primary care workers was cited as 'unrealistic demand from patients', followed by heavy workloads and 'unfair criticism from politicians'.

The report said: 'Physical abuse from patients was rated as having no effect on morale, whereas verbal abuse from patients seemingly had a greater impact. While this only had a moderate effect on GPs, it was rated more highly by practice managers - the professional group most likely to receive this form of abuse.'

One practice manager contacted in relation to the survey said they were subjected to abuse ‘on a weekly basis’.

They added: ‘I have no idea why they feel that this is appropriate behaviour. The message that keeps coming through is that they feel they are entitled to privileged treatment that they are not getting even though they have paid for it.’

GPC deputy chair Dr Richard Vautrey said: 'It is very concerning that any patient feels that they can act in this way when GPs and their staff are doing their best to help and care for them.’

‘The NHS must not only adopt a zero tolerance policy to abusive behaviour but must also back up practice staff when they are subjected to these type of incidents.’

He added: 'Whilst some GPs have been subjected to appalling levels of verbal and physical abuse they are aware that there remains a level of respect for them shown by patients which is not equally shown for their staff, in particular those on the front line such as reception staff and practice managers.’


Source: Cogora survey of 1,190 primary care workers including 600 GPs 

Readers' comments (29)

  • Spuds

    Jo Smit

    Sticks and stones

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  • Spuds - of course it is our role to manage unrealistic expectations and try to diffuse high levels of anxiety or aggression.

    It is definitely not my job to be sworn at (happens all too regularly these days) or receive a complaint letter with a patient stating they hope I die from AIDS because I didnt write a GANFYD.

    There are obvious differences between the two scenarios and any manager not seeing that is failong their duty of care towards their employees.

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  • *failing

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  • Would Theresa May's blaming us for all the woes of A+E count as verbal abuse ?
    The government's piss - taking and verbal lashings are much worse than anything dished out by patients.

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  • Another statistic is 100% of GPs experience abuse from Hunt and his Daily Mail cronies.

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  • AlanAlmond

    Congratulations to those who have never experienced phisical or verbal abuse, well done for being so hard/no non-sense and generally bleedin marvellous. This doesn't mean it isn't happening and suggesting so does a great disservice to your collegues. I've luckily managed to escape all but a couple of physical incidents in my time so far but verbal abuse is pretty common. I've come across others who've not been so fortunate, inc someone knifed in the face by a patient in A&E. Getting knifed in the face isn't 'just part of the job' - whilst thankfully such extremes are rare, passive tolerance of any abusive behaviour, verbal or physical, is a dumb way of going about your work.

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  • An upfront fee for consultations or any other service will make primary care valued again

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  • I have been a GP for 29 years. Abusive behaviour is increasing in my experience. The worst group are young women who feel it appropriate to shout and stamp their feet like toddlers perhaps it's their upbringing

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  • David Banner

    I've always been astonished how serial abusers have been given 2nd, 3rd and more chances by practices, who fear a complaint if they throw them off the list too quickly.

    Well, to Hell with that, put up the Zero Tolerance posters, plaster it on your website/leaflet, and kick them out on first offence. It's usually the poor receptionists who have to bear the brunt of these cowardly bullies, and we owe it to our staff to protect them.

    Let them moan to NHSE all they like, I'd rather handle their pathetic complaints than empower/reward their disgusting, entitled,aggressive ,violent behaviour.

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  • I see thousands of patients every year. There are always people -luckily only a few that are rude to the doctors. I was verbally abused twice last year and I really felt there was nobody to support me. I didn't do anything as I had a fear that I may get a complaint letter.

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