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Third of GPs victim of patient attack

One in three GPs has been physically attacked by a patient at some point in their career and hundreds of assaults every year are going unreported, a Pulse survey reveals this week.

The survey shows that GPs fail to report the majority of attacks on them. It also reveals fewer than half the GPs attacked by one of their own patients in the past year said the patient had subsequently been struck off.

The poll of nearly 900 GPs, carried out for Pulse by doctors' mobile communications firm Pearl Medical, highlights the risks faced by GPs every day in surgeries and in the community.

It also appears to back controversial claims that GPs seem willing to accept violence as an occupational hazard.

It is believed to be the biggest UK poll for at least three years and follows a serious attack on a GP in west Glasgow last month. Dr Helen Jackson was allegedly stabbed three times by a patient at her Hyndland Road practice during morning surgery.

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The poll found that within the past year 2.7% of GPs had been physically assaulted, 11.8% threatened with violence and 46.4% suffered verbal abuse.

Six out of 10 GPs said they did not report the most recent physical assault. Most GPs said subsequent procedures were effective, but fewer than half said they had been ‘appropriately supported' by their primary care organisation.

The figures come as the NHS Counter Fraud and Security Management Service prepares to launch a two-year campaign highlighting the violence faced by GPs. Starting in November, the campaign will seek to raise awareness of local security management specialists, based in PCTs.

A spokesperson for the service said they were aware that many GPs were reluctant to report assaults to PCTs.

‘Pilots undertaken by NHS security suggest GPs do not know how to report violence and are not aware of the help and support the local security management specialists can give them,' he said.

Dr Allen McCullough, a GP in Antrim, Northern Ireland, said it was vital primary care organisations took assaults on GPs more seriously.

‘We had an instance where a locum in our practice was assaulted and nothing was done about it until something more serious happened,' he said.

The survey also found respondents were divided over whether assaults on GPs should merit longer sentences, with 52.9% saying they should not.

Dr Fatehali Hirji, a GP in Hemel Hempstead, Hertfordshire, said GPs should adopt a hardline stance.

‘If someone has been violent towards a GP or health practitioner, we should stand up to the PCT and not accept them into the practice,' he said. ‘I would throw the patient, and their family, off my list – automatically, simple as that.'

According to the GMC's Good Medical Practice, if a patient poses a risk to a GP's health and safety the GP is entitled to take ‘all available steps' to minimise risk, including removal from their list.

'Drink and Drugs often to blame'

Dr Stefan Cembrowicz, a GP in Bristol, blames drugs and alcohol for many of the violent incidents at his practice.

‘The perpetrators may be divided into mad, bad or sad, but all too often these days it's simply intoxication that triggers off a disinhibited response,' he says.

‘There are usually lots of warnings. It's unusual for people to become violent without warning signs – raised voices, the wrong body language.'

But genuine concerns over the NHS or treatment can also spill over into violence, he warns.

‘Articulate patients who have a grievance may press forward a complaint or litigation. Less articulate patients are perhaps more likely to use aggression.'

Although practical steps such as panic alarms, surgery design and practice drills can reduce the risk to GPs and staff, a cultural change is also needed, he says.

‘Even nowadays, the police aren't always aware of the seriousness of an assault on a public servant. There's still a bit of the old-fashioned attitude that it's a domestic-type incident.

‘We still need to counter that. We still need to say that it is no longer acceptable.'

GP attacks: survey reveals majority going unreported GP attacks: survey reveals majority going unreported Violence against GPs

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