This site is intended for health professionals only

GP practice appeals to patients after receiving death threats

GP practice appeals to patients after receiving death threats

A GP practice in York has appealed directly to patients after its staff members received multiple death threats.

Dr Abbie Brooks, a GP partner at Priory Medical Group, decided to write a letter to patients after staff members received abuse and ‘direct death threats’.

Amid examples quoted, the surgery said GPs were told: ‘If they don’t sort this, I’ll have someone waiting to grab them on the way to their cars’; and ‘If they want to f*** my life up, I’ll f*** theirs up’.

The letter said staff mental health has been badly affected by the abuse personally directed at them and lamented that ‘it is now normal’ for patients to swear at the practice’s receptionists.

In the letter, Dr Brooks said: ‘Recent direct death threats received by our GPs within the last few weeks have made me realise that I can’t stay quiet on the matter any longer.

‘I am used to seeing negativity towards general practice in the media/social media but day to day we usually experience good feedback and gratitude “on the ground” from patients.

‘However, over the last 12-18 months this has changed, and it is now normal to hear a disgruntled patient raising their voice or swearing at our receptionists.

‘Locally, a GP practice has been set alight. Further afield practices have had their buildings vandalised or covered in graffiti – it is frightening.’

Dr Brooks warned that if staff continue to feel threatened and anxious at work, they will eventually leave.

She told patients: ‘This will mean gaps in our reception, patient central call handlers and clinical teams only making it harder for patients to access our care.

‘Yes, we know the patient journey to reaching a diagnosis can feel slow or clunky. We know we aren’t always doing everything right but does that mean we deserve to feel scared doing our job? No.’

She also asked patients to use the NHS website for advice on minor illnesses or consider speaking to their local pharmacist before contacting the practice, as this allows the clinical team to ‘concentrate their efforts on those who need our help most’.

The letter added: ‘I understand our patients and the wider society is frustrated. We are too. We are working under the constraints of a severely underfunded system, but still helping hundreds of patients every day.

‘We want to offer quick urgent care access, continuity of care and timely follow ups to all but the staffing levels and high demand for appointments means this is impossible.’

Abuse directed towards GPs and staff at the practice

The letter included some of the abusive comments received by the practice, including:

‘Go kill yourself.

‘F*** you.

‘Can’t you just f***ing do it?

‘If they want to f*** my life up, I’ll f*** theirs up.

‘If they don’t sort this, I’ll have someone waiting to grab them on the way to their cars.

‘If I die it’s your fault.

‘If you do not give me a [nurse appointment], you are a murderer.’

Dr Brooks told Pulse that the ‘small minority’ of abusive patients is having ‘a significant impact’ on staff and the morale at the practice.

She added: ‘I felt I could use my voice to show support for my team, draw a line in the sand and say enough is enough.

‘While the NHS is under so much pressure, we are all working our socks off to make sure our patients get safe and timely care in general practice.

‘We have received wonderful feedback from our patients since the letter went out. Cards, emails and even chocolates and fruit from our grateful and supportive patients.’

She said the letter was not written ‘for sympathy or to shock’ but to honestly share what is happening in today’s healthcare settings.

She added: ‘Every day I go to work with the aim of helping my patients, as do receptionists and call handlers. It is a much harder job when I am dreading which patient will phone up or walk in and shout at me or my colleagues.

‘When I worry about calling a patient because I know that I will receive hostility due to the time taken to book the appointment or when I’m worried about declining a request for an unnecessary prescription because I know the patient’s reaction might be extreme.’

The practice has acted quickly to remove patients from its list who have threatened staff and involved the police when they received death threats or experienced physical attacks.

Earlier this year, GPs were encouraged to identify abusive or violent patients who may benefit from a rehabilitation programme.

And last month a GP practice successfully defended a legal case brought by a patient claiming their list removal for abusive behaviour amounted to discrimination.

NHS England has launched a new programme aiming to reduce violence against staff working in general practice, which is being piloted over the next three to six months and will be free to participate in.

Researchers have called for urgent measures to mitigate harm to staff as they found aggression towards GP receptionists is a ‘frequent and routine’ occurrence in general practice.

A Pulse investigation published in June showed a 16% rise in crimes involving violence at GP surgeries since 2019, after a drop in incidents during the pandemic.



Please note, only GPs are permitted to add comments to articles

John Graham Munro 17 October, 2023 12:01 pm

In my experience patients would prefer to see a locum than the incumbents———and women rather consult a male G.P. for gynae. problems.

Reply moderated
Douglas Callow 17 October, 2023 1:00 pm

JGM grow up

Not on your Nelly 17 October, 2023 1:01 pm

breakdown in the relationship. contact the police. off list. There is no appeal. It is the end.

David Church 17 October, 2023 1:17 pm

I feel Dr Brooks is wrong, it is NOT normal for patients to swear at Reception staff, or threaten Doctors.
This should be always treated as definitely abnormal.
There may be rare occasions when someone uses a word which is considered a swear-word by some people (and most email filters, annoyingly sometimes) but in an innocent way.
All intentional swearing must be considered abnormal, and dealth with appropriately.
Referral to Police and the local Health Board’s “violent patient scheme” should happen immediately, unless it is an innocent miscommunication. Practices should ensure they indicate a refusal to accept allocation back to them of a patient who has behaved inappropriately.
This is the only way we can avoid the future where such behaviouor does become ‘normal’.
More should be done to point out to patients that the dire state of the NHS is their fault for voting the way they did at the last General Election !

Douglas Callow 17 October, 2023 1:21 pm

DC true so true
Zero Tolerance
Use the resources early and don’t feel any sense of guilt
highly visible CCTV in waiting areas/surgery premises kills some of this behaviour as recorded and evidential

John Graham Munro 17 October, 2023 2:24 pm

Douglas Callow———-your personality shines through

Dr No 17 October, 2023 2:29 pm

What a horrifying story. Much of this GP-hate is deliberately stoked by The Mail and Telegraph, the unofficial political pamphlets of the Tories. And what about the Pay Transparency business? Many of us live in our practice areas… I need say no more.

John Graham Munro 17 October, 2023 2:51 pm

Why does this Practice have the problem on such a grand scale?———stop pussy footing around———if a soldier behaved in such a manner to civilian medical staff on army premises he could look forward to a Court Martial

Mercedes Franco 17 October, 2023 3:16 pm

Hi Graham… that not completely true… A patient in a Navy DPHC Practice not very long ago abused verbally shouted and threatened myself and a POMA
We were both so shocked that we did not react fast enough and call the Military police, we just sat there and look at each other in disbelieve… do I have to say that this person has not even be made to apologize and his DO sent him home???

Centreground Centreground 17 October, 2023 3:53 pm

This is a further failure to act in any meaningful manner by an incompetent NHS England or the Ivory Tower ICBs most of whom do not need to deal with this issue and many have never been confronted by this problem in their entire careers.
It is again a reflection of the abject failure of NHS management at all levels within the NHS to take firm action which does not mean drafting up another 50 pages completely useless policy. Zero tolerance is not always supported by these management groups other than lip service.
The continued decline in the level of qualifications of people entering the NHS and lowering of standards across the board via PCNs in clinical roles is leading to dissatisfaction among patients and exacerbating this pre existing problem.

The Socialist 18 October, 2023 2:39 am

Advocate for more free service. Offer everything for free. Everyone is entitled to everything. The gravy train continues. Offer to pay a lot more taxes from you mediocre salary. How else do you expect these punters to treat you? This is what socialism delivers.. in no other parts of the world, are doctors treated like this. You got yourself into this mess. And you are asking for more of the same. You have no one else to blame, but yourselves.

Mary Kwok 18 October, 2023 6:14 am

Patients in Asia where I have relocated, do not even have access to insulin pen from the government hospital due to costs. The British public is truly well cared for many without realizing it. Now working in a private GP clinic it costs 40 pounds for a 15min consultation, adding on medications it amounts to around 70-80 pounds for each patient. This is for the same quality of care I was giving while back in the UK. People respects doctors here, never shouts and really thankful for our work. Our team always happy and colleagues celebrate each other’s birthdays having cakes and coffee tea in rest area. We have time to discuss difficult cases, going out for lunches in between morning and afternoon clinics. Perhaps it’s time to reflect on work life balance and if it is worth it to work at such an abusive stressful environment.

Truth Finder 18 October, 2023 10:51 am

We got ourselves into this. Free leads to unlimited demands and abuse. The entitlement they feel as an pretentious abusive boss as “we pay your salary”–I’ve been told many times. No you don’t pay the salary as you’re on benefits I would reply.

John Charlton 21 October, 2023 10:37 am

What about a compulsory on line course for all. Staff – doctors I mean. We could do it along side fire extinguisher training.