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.
‘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.
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.