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GPs demand ‘more severe sanctions’ for violent patients

GPs demand ‘more severe sanctions’ for violent patients

GPs want ‘more severe sanctions’ for perpetrators of threatening and violent behaviour towards GP practice staff.

In a vote at last month’s UK LMC conference, delegates demanded that ‘the criteria for inclusion in violent patient schemes should be relaxed’.

The also called on UK governments to ‘ensure that the funding for violent patient schemes is uplifted to provide appropriate resource’.

The GPC is now mandated to ‘lobby governments for more severe sanctions for perpetrators’.

Proposing the motion, Dr Sally Tyrer said general practice ‘shouldn’t need to wait for somebody to die before there is an outcry about the situation’ and staff should not have to come to work ‘fearing what may happen’.

She recounted a serious incident at a York GP surgery last year, which led to a man being charged with causing arson with intent to endanger life, carrying a knife in public, unlawful violence, and causing actual bodily harm.

‘I have nothing but admiration and respect for how Ampleforth surgery responded to their incident and for how the surrounding NHS community came together to offer its support – but they’d be the first to admit that nine months on, despite the rebuild being completed, they are far from back to normal and likely never will be,’ Dr Tyrer told the conference.

Speaking in favour of the motion, Dr Alan McCubbin argued that the current justice system ‘provides no meaningful justice whatsoever’, which ‘sends a clear message to patients that they can do anything they like to GP practice staff with no meaningful consequence’.

He told attendees about an incident in 2018 in which his practice manager was ‘subjected to a vicious assault’ by a patient who was later found guilty of aggravated actual bodily harm, but was only given a fine and referred to the violent patients service.

Newham GP Dr Tamara Hibbert said ‘increasing’ violent and threatening behaviour towards practice staff is ‘truly shocking’ and that staff are ‘routinely shouted at, spat at, sworn at’.

But she also argued that online reviews, such as those on Google, can cause harm too, as patients can ‘defame, intimidate, and defile the character’ of staff with no consequences.

‘We must not accept abuse as the norm. It is our duty as good citizens to set the boundaries of reasonable behaviour,’ Dr Hibbert added.

Speaking against one part of the motion, Devon GP Dr Matt Best said the criteria for the violent patients scheme is ‘already very open’ and relaxing it further could negatively impact vulnerable patients.

He told the conference: ‘We all care for vulnerable patients that have complex health needs. These patients are also expected to behave appropriately and practices concurrently apply professional judgement in their management.

‘Relaxing violent patient scheme rules could potentially lead to such patients being inappropriately referred. This will further impact their healthcare, breaking continuity, and leaving them to travel significant distances to see a GP and reducing access to specialist services.’

Violence and aggression by patients against GPs and staff has seen an alarming rise in recent years, with Pulse reporting on a string of shocking incidents.

In April, a man who assaulted GP staff and smashed a glass screen at a surgery in Kent, causing injury to staff, was jailed for 42 weeks.

The trial also finally got underway for the brutal incident in Manchester in 2021 where GP staff were attacked with a metal pole, and the perpetrator was recently jailed for six and a half years after pleading guilty to four assaults.

Elsewhere, the police were recently investigating a criminal damage incident at a GP practice in York where the glass front door was smashed in. 

Motion in full

That conference recognises the increasing incidence of aggressive, threatening and violent incidents occurring in general practice and:
(i) demands that the criteria for inclusion in violent patient schemes should be relaxed CARRIED
(ii) calls on all UK governments to ensure that the funding for violent patient schemes is uplifted to provide appropriate resource CARRIED
(iii) mandates GPC UK to lobby governments for more severe sanctions for perpetrators CARRIED