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GPs to be covered by new ‘zero tolerance’ policy against abuse from patients

GPs will be protected by a new ‘zero tolerance’ policy aiming to reduce the number of assaults on NHS staff.

The measures are part of a new violence reduction strategy launched by the Department of Health and Social Care to better protect NHS staff from attacks and abuse.

A new zero-tolerance approach will be adopted and a partnership between the NHS, police and Crown Prosecution Service will aim to see offenders prosecuted quickly.

The strategy, which health secretary Matt Hancock will launch today in a speech at the Royal College of Nursing, will see NHS staff given training on how to deal with a violent situation, and victims of violence will be able to access mental health support.

One in eight NHS employees have experienced violence from patients, their relatives or the public in the past year, which is the highest figure for five years, according to the latest NHS staff survey. 

Going forward, the CQC will scrutinise NHS trusts based on the quality of plans to reduce violence against staff.

Last year, an investigation by Pulse publisher Cogora revealed that two thirds of GPs had experienced some form of abuse from patients.

Mr Hancock said: ‘NHS staff dedicate their lives to protecting and caring for us in our times of greatest need and for any one of them to be subject to aggression or violence is completely unacceptable.’

‘I have made it my personal mission to ensure NHS staff feel safe and secure at work and the new violence reduction strategy will be a key strand of that.’

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‘We will not shy away from the issue – we want to empower staff and give them greater confidence to report violence, knowing that they will see meaningful action from trusts and a consistent prosecution approach from the judicial system.’

The new measures follow the Assaults on Emergency Workers (Offences) Bill, which increased the maximum prison sentence for assaulting an emergency worker from six months to a year.

The BMA welcomed the new measures and called for tougher sentences to try and reduce the number of assaults on NHS staff.

BMA junior doctors committee chair, Dr Jeeves Wijesuriya, said: ‘The BMA has long been concerned about the risk and impact of violence on NHS staff and is particularly concerned by the rising numbers of attacks taking place against frontline staff…

‘We believe that tougher sentences for attacks on emergency service workers will make a real difference in reducing the number of serious incidents that staff are subjected to and we support the violence reduction strategy, which sends out a strong deterrent message to those who wilfully assault NHS staff.’

Following a change to the GP contract this year, practices are able to refuse to register patients if they have a violent flag against their record. They can also remove ‘mistakenly registered’ violent patients under the normal procedures.

BMA GP Committee chair Dr Richard Vautrey said: ‘GP practice staff are all too often subjected to unacceptable abuse and even attacks from patients who they are trying their best to help.

‘As pressures increase within the NHS, with waiting times increasing as practices and hospitals struggle to manage rising workload within inadequate funding, it can be understandable why patients can be frustrated but that can never justify taking that frustration out on those on the frontline trying to care for them. 

‘This year we secured improvements to the way the violent patient/safe haven DES operates but there are still too many incidents where commissioners are slow to support practices seeking to take appropriate action when patients overstep the line with their behaviour, and the initiative announced today must address this.’