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Figures reveal thousands of assaults on GPs and staff

By Lilian Anekwe

There were nearly 3,500 assaults on GPs and primary care staff recorded last year, according to the latest Department of Health figures.

Data from the NHS security management service, published in an answer to a Parliamentary question, showed PCTs reported 3,472 physical assaults on staff, including GPs, in 2008/9.

The number of attacks has fallen slightly from the 3,607 reported the previous year, but in only 17 of the assaults – or 0.5% – were there any criminal sanctions against the attacker.

The highest number of physical attacks, 307, was recorded in NHS Derbyshire County, while 271 were recorded in NHS North East Essex and 225 in NHS South Birmingham. At the other end of the spectrum, several trusts recorded no assaults at all.

New legislation came into force at the end of November 2009 that made ‘causing a nuisance or disturbance on NHS premises' a criminal offence and gave GPs the power to remove a person suspected of committing this offence under the Criminal Justice and Immigration Act.

Richard Hampton, head of the NHS security management service, said the legislation would go some way to tackling low-level nuisance and disturbance, and preventing situations escalating into something more serious.

But he added: ‘All trusts have a responsibility to ensure risks to their staff are minimised.'

The service has commissioned Ipsos MORI to conduct a poll of 2,000 frontline NHS staff, including GPs, to assess the scale of violent attacks as part of a review of NHS security.

It came as a poll of 172 GPs and hospital doctors by the Medical Defence Union found over half said they had been physically or verbally assaulted in the last five years.

Both verbal and physical harrassment is an occupational hazard for many GPs Avoiding violent conflicts: MDU advice

· Identifying potential assailants or groups, such as patients with a history of previous violence, mental health difficulties or alcohol/drug abuse.

· Anticipating activities that might present a high risk of aggression – such as refusing an appointment or delivering bad news or unwelcome information.

· Looking at the layout of your consulting room or reception – can you exit easily if needs be, do you have panic alarms or CCTV?

· Arranging training for yourself and your team in handling verbally or physically aggressive people.

· Ensuring people know where you are, how you can be contacted and when you are expected to return when undertaking home visits in primary care.

· Taking special precautions with any patient who has a history of violence such as trying to avoid seeing them alone or at their home. Ideally, the PCT or Trust will have arrangements in place so the patient can be seen at a suitable, safe location. If this is not possible, try to arrange to be accompanied by a colleague and make sure that your whereabouts is known if you visit them at home.

· Disclosing only the minimum information necessary for the purpose, if it becomes necessary to disclose confidential information about a violent patient to a third party, such as the police, in the public interest.

Source: Medical Defence Union