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Three quarters of GPs say verbal abuse occurs on a weekly basis

Three quarters of GPs say verbal abuse occurs on a weekly basis

Exclusive Three-quarters of GPs say they and their staff experience verbal abuse from patients on a weekly basis, a Pulse survey of 1,000 GPs has revealed.

The survey of GPs across the UK also reveals that almost half say they or practice staff have experienced physical abuse from patients, while two-thirds have been subjected to social media abuse.

Meanwhile, the majority of GPs said that complaints around access have increased in the previous year.

Pulse has reported on a number of cases of practices facing violence in recent months, including practices being vandalised, staff being assaulted and threats of arson.

Respondents to the survey said that receptionists are leaving due to abuse.

The new survey reveals that practices across the UK are experiencing abuse, verbal and physical. It reveals:

• 74% say they or their staff have experienced face verbal abuse on a weekly basis, including almost 40% who say it occurs daily;
• 45% say they or practice staff experience physical abuse every year;
• One-third say they or their practice staff experience abuse on social media on a weekly basis;
• 68% said that the number of patient complaints around access increased in 2022, with 41% saying it significantly increased.

Dr Richard Brown, a GP in Carmarthenshire, told Pulse: ‘There seems be a seismic swing away from “clap for the NHS” that’s only a few months ago to today where abuse is rife again. Last week a patient, without any mitigating circumstances, was desperately abusive to one of my receptionists bemoaning the fact it wasn’t the US where she could buy a gun and “sort us all out”. Primary care seems the bearing the brunt and blamed by all and sundry for the current issues and the public are picking up on this.’

Others said that they are dealing with verbal abuse on a daily basis, while another said they are struggling to recruit receptionists as a result of the abuse they are facing.

One practice in North Yorkshire has been shut for a few months due to problems recruiting support staff, which they say is partly due to the abuse faced by receptionists.  

Dr Kieran Sharrock, acting chair of GPC England at the BMA, said: ‘Any kind of abuse against GPs and their teams is completely unacceptable. No one should ever go into work fearing that they will be abused, let alone physically.

‘We understand that patients are often in pain and distress when they interact with the health service, and that current pressures and a lack of staff mean it can take longer to access the care they need. However, we cannot let people take their frustrations with the system out on those who are just doing the best they can in difficult circumstances.

‘Abusive behaviour ultimately has a huge impact on morale within practice teams, and makes staff question whether they want to stay in the health service. In the midst of a serious workforce crisis, we simply cannot afford to lose any more talented healthcare professionals.’

Professor Kamila Hawthorne, chair of the RCGP, said: ‘The findings from this survey are deeply concerning as they show that abuse is now a common experience for GPs and practice staff who are working to their limits – and the reports of physical abuse are particularly distressing. It’s entirely unacceptable for anyone working in general practice to be at the receiving end of abuse of any kind when they are just doing their best to deliver safe, timely and appropriate care for their patients.

‘We share our patients’ frustrations when they have difficulty accessing our services, but the vast majority appreciate that GPs and our teams are doing the best we can under intense workload and workforce pressures. The reality is that having to work in these circumstances, with the additional worry that you may face abuse, sometimes on a daily basis, will have a significant impact on the mental health, wellbeing and morale of individual doctors and practice staff.’

An NHS England spokesperson said: ‘GP teams are working hard to carry out millions more appointments every month compared to before the pandemic. It is unacceptable that NHS staff are subjected to abuse while doing their jobs. 

‘“’Any practice staff needing more support can get help via our wellbeing app or by accessing our coaching sessions which thousands of people have already benefited from.’

The survey was open between 23 November and 5 December 2022, collating responses using the SurveyMonkey tool, with GPs across the UK asked to respond to these particular questions. It featured a range of questions on various topics. The survey was advertised to our readers via our website and email newsletter, with a prize draw for an £250 John Lewis voucher as an incentive to complete the survey. The survey is unweighted, and we do not claim this to be scientific – only a snapshot of the GP population



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

David Banner 20 January, 2023 12:50 am

I’m afraid the fear of a complaint has weakened the resolve of practices to deal firmly with these obnoxious verbal abusers.
We all proudly display our “zero tolerance “ posters, but in reality cower from the all powerful patient and their threat to file a letter of complaint.
Well it’s our turf and our staff, they deserve protection from these foul-mouthed bullies.
It should be a yellow card for lesser offences (give them a written warning that any repeat abuse will result in their immediate removal from the list) and a red card for any directly threatening behaviour, such as racist, misogynistic or violent outbursts such as the appalling “fetch my gun” comment in the article.
Yes, some may contest this decision, but if contemporaneous notes are written, witnesses documented, and phone calls recorded, then these gobby cowards are often embarrassed (especially male patients berating female receptionists) and soon fall into line.
Don’t indulge this abuse, fight back.

Kevlar Cardie 20 January, 2023 2:47 pm

Take them off the list. Simple.

Dr No 22 January, 2023 2:48 pm

These people are often personality-disordered scumbags who run and hide the moment they are threatened with removal. Zero-tolerance for the sake of our reception teams is required, lest they leg it to work in Asda.

Dave Haddock 22 January, 2023 6:00 pm

The NHS has become entirely dysfunctional; yet the BMA continues to parrot “save the NHS”. Stockholm Syndrome.