GPs having to tell patients of long waiting lists for hospital treatment face a risk of abuse, a survey has shown.
More than seven in ten GPs have seen or witnessed verbal or physical abuse from patients or their relatives in the past year, the Medical Protection Society (MPS) warned.
A survey of doctors also found that 92% of the GPs who experienced or witnessed abuse in the past 12 months said it had affected their mental health.
Two in five respondents said the increase in abuse and intimidation from patients has made them consider their career in healthcare.
It follows a Pulse investigation published earlier this month which laid bare how practices are being impacted by increasing physical, verbal and social media abuse.
In Nottinghamshire last year a practice had to be evacuated with staff needing medical attention after a patient turned violent.
The MPS survey of 900 doctors, 271 of them GPs, found for those in primary care, staff shortages and referral waiting lists were two main drivers of the abuse they were getting.
Comments included GPs saying members of the team had been verbally abused, threatened and spat at.
One respondent said a patient had attacked staff and destroyed the waiting room because of the waiting time for a GP appointment.
Others pointed to patients taking out their frustration at having to wait for their operation or secondary care appointment.
‘Telling patients that there is an 80-week wait for their referral causes conflict and we take the blame,’ one anonymous GP said.
The survey also found nearly a third of GPs (31%) feel abuse against healthcare workers is not taken seriously by police.
The MPS called on the Government and police to take every possible step to tackle this issue or face losing ‘many more skilled, committed healthcare workers during a time when the profession can ill-afford it’.
MPS president Professor Dame Jane Dacre said: ‘While staff shortages and long referral waiting lists are frustrating and stressful for patients and their families, GPs and practice staff are doing their best in very difficult circumstances.
‘While many patient interactions are positive it is distressing that so many practice team members face daily verbal and physical abuse from patients – including being spat at and threatened.’
She added: ‘What is perhaps worse is the notion that abuse is becoming “part of the job” with some becoming desensitised to it and therefore neither reporting nor seeking support following incidents.’
‘Abuse against healthcare workers should not be normalised. Experiencing and witnessing abuse can have a lasting and profound impact on mental health and this can be damaging for the individual as well as for patient care.
‘The zero-tolerance policy to abuse must be rigorously enforced right across the NHS so healthcare workers feel their safety is a priority and are empowered to report all abusive behaviour. The policy must also be visible to patients as a deterrent.’
BMA Northern Ireland recently warned that GPs are being sued by patients experiencing long waits for hospital treatment.