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GP practice warns patients about social media criticism after staff abused online

A GP surgery has warned patients it is taking a ‘zero tolerance’ approach – which includes the possibility of patients being deregistered – to the posting of abuse about the surgery on social media after a string of personal messages were made against staff.

The St Lawrence Medical Practice, in Braintree, Essex issued signs warning patients that abusive comments online could still contravene the NHS’s zero tolerance policy on aggressive or abusive behaviour to staff, which could lead to patients being deregistered.

They asked patients to address any compliments or complaints to the practice manager so the issue could be addressed, and added this would also minimise the risk of breaching patient confidentiality.

In an interview with the BBC, practice manager Alison Rudkin said the policy was a response to comments on a local newspaper’s Facebook page which used ‘appalling language’ and mentioned staff by name.

Ms Rudkin told the BBC: ‘Those sort of comments and that sort of language is a form of bullying. We would much rather people come and see us in person if they have something they want to say.’

The practice has had to amend the wording on the sign to clarify that it was a call for direct feedback, rather than an attempt to prevent patient complaints.

Dr Brian Balmer, newly elected GPC negotiator and chief executive of North and South Essex LMCs, said that the zero tolerance scheme has the full backing of the LMC and could see patients removed from their practice, placed in a specialist surgery, and the police notified.

Dr Balmer explained the scheme focuses on threatening behaviour and that individual staff members had to determine if they were being threatened.

He told Pulse: ‘Zero tolerance, we’re absolutely behind. And we have pushed it very hard, more than the NHS does.’

‘This particular practice I don’t know what happened or what was said, clearly criticism especially constructive criticism is fine, but if someone has been abusive or threatening, that’s not.’

‘Abusive language depends on the situation. The zero tolerance is really about threatening or violent behaviour. If people feel threatened, so that is an individual judgement, it’s an individual judgement by the member of staff, not by the patient, and there is no appeal, no review, nothing.’

A GMC report, last month, found that sustained negative media coverage of general practice has been partly to blame for a doubling in GMC complaints since 2007.

St Lawrence Medical Practice declined to comment when approached by Pulse.

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Social Media - relationships - patients and the NHS - Verita Consultancy 12 October, 2021 4:01 pm

[…] of social media has been ad-hoc. For example, after staff had been criticised on social media, a GP surgery in Braintree implemented its own zero-tolerance policy on patients discussing their experiences at the surgery, […]