GP practice staff face rising abuse due to media reporting as well as ‘often unchallenged’ views expressed on social media, according to a council report.
Health leaders in Bradford and Craven also highlighted the need to ‘dispel the myth that fewer appointments are being offered’ when in fact GP practices are achieving record numbers.
Providing its yearly update on GP access to the council’s health scrutiny committee, the Bradford District and Craven Health and Care Partnership sought to impress on council members the importance of improving the ‘quality of access’ to general practice, rather than simply the number of appointments.
In a survey of GP practice staff, the partnership found that ‘media negativity’ was given by a quarter as a reason for considering leaving their role.
The report said: ‘We are aware that media reporting, alongside strong and often unchallenged views on social media has resulted and continues to result in unacceptable verbal and physical abuse of GP practice colleagues.’
It also stated that there are ‘rising incidences’ of this abuse towards practice teams in the area, and this can increase the risk of staff leaving roles.
The health and care partnership said it wants to work with the council to ‘dispel some of the misconceptions’ around GP access, and also to help patients make ‘the best and most appropriate use of their whole GP practice team’.
While the health leaders recognised that many people feel ‘let down’ by GP access issues, they also highlighted that monthly appointments in the area have grown by over 10% (36,600) between 2019 and 2023.
Despite this, a ‘misconception’ has arisen that GP practices are seeing fewer patients.
The report said: ‘Some of this misconception could be based on widely shared media and social media articles, as well as personal experience when trying to book an appointment – from telephony challenges (“I can’t get through”) through to a person’s personal choice to be seen by a certain healthcare professional (“I want to be seen by Dr xxx”).
‘These are valid reasons for people sharing their experience, however it does not reflect the trend shown by our data.’
Dr Louise Clarke, a GP and executive director or strategy and transformation at the partnership, said ‘we need to look beyond the headlines and develop a two-way dialogue involving our communities and colleagues’.
She said: ‘The media and social media headlines drive expectations and anger towards GP staff that prevent patients and staff working together to find solutions.’
At her own GP practice, Dr Clarke said all staff have been trained in ‘trauma informed approaches’ to help de-escalate and resolve issues when they arise, and they are also ‘co-designing’ their access model.
‘However, all of this is harder when expectation and negative rhetoric from media drives people towards anger and sometimes abuse of staff,’ she added.
As well as working to tackle myths about general practice, Bradford District and Craven Health and Care Partnership will also seek to address ‘issues caused by the current funding formula’ for contracting GP services, since it has the potential to worsen health inequalities.
Recent incidents of abuse at practices across the UK include GP practice staff in Crewe being threatened with ‘two large knives’, and a ‘seriously vandalised’ GP practice in Sheffield where 13 windows and two doors were smashed in.
Pulse’s investigation into the effects of abuse earlier this year showed that incidents are rising, and that in order to manage some practices are having to change their processes.