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Revealed: the 47% rise in antisocial behaviour in GP practices last year

Exclusive The number of antisocial incidents taking place in GP practices across the UK increased by 47% in 2012/13 despite overall recorded crime falling at practices, a Pulse investigation has found.

Figures obtained from 15 police forces across the UK showed there were 69 instances of antisocial behaviour in GP surgeries or health centres in 2012/13, from 47 the previous year, with typical examples including intoxicated patients and one police force even reporting an assault with a book.

The number of violent assaults against practice staff or patients also rose this year, with 53 instances in 2012/13 from 28 in 2011/12, but the overall instances of crime at GP surgeries decreased by 3% in 2012/13. However, even this figure was way below the national decrease of 8% in 2012.

LMC leaders said the increase in assaults and antisocial behaviour was worrying and said GPs are less likely to tolerate bad behaviour because of the patient’s condition.

In Hertfordshire, the police recorded a typical example of antisocial behaviour, where an offender ‘entered surgery heavily intoxicated’ and his behaviour ‘became more disorderly when GP refused to see him’.

The majority of offenders did not use a weapon but in a bizarre incident in Norfolk a book was used in an assault. This did not result in an injury, the police force said.

The findings, obtained through a freedom of information request, showed that the number of crimes recorded in GP practices or health centres overall reduced from 815 in 2011/12 to 794 in 2012/13.

The most frequently occurring crime recorded this year was theft. There were 274 thefts in 2012/13, down from 334 the previous year. Thames Valley police force recorded the most thefts of all the forces that provided data, with 59 recorded at GP practices and health centres this year.

Purses, bags, cash boxes and mobile phones were the items most often stolen, but practices are increasingly seeing copper pipes, wires and lead from their roofs being stolen. There were also occasions where wheelie bins and CCTV cameras were stolen.

Dr Nigel Watson, chief executive of Wessex LMCs said the increase in antisocial behaviour and assaults were ‘worrying’.

He said practices were more likely to report violence so patients were added to the violent patient scheme: ‘It shows the pressure practices are under. The increase might be because more practices are prepared to report it, because if they report it to the police those patients can be put on the violent patient scheme.

The rise in antisocial behaviour and violence could be because patients increasingly think of themselves as consumers of healthcare, he added.

He said: ‘The vast majority of patients behave really well and use the services properly. But there is a small subset of patients who get rude, aggressive or violent when they don’t get what they want and I think most GPs would agree they’ve seen an increase in this behaviour since ten years ago.

‘It could be due to consumer culture. People in a healthcare environment are frightened, so might be more likely to get aggressive. Alcohol and mental health issues are common. Where they were tolerated in the past, GPs are now less likely to excuse the behaviour because of the condition.’