Pulse’s latest investigation has revealed the damaging impact of rising abuse towards GPs and other practice staff. Here, a locum GP who was working in Bedfordshire in 2021 recounts a day in which she experienced two incidents of abuse. This was the final straw, and she left the practice to work elsewhere shortly after.
First, I had a male patient on the phone who was verbally aggressive because they wanted something done that actually was not on our end in primary care. They were waiting for an appointment in secondary care, but it was taking quite a while.
They were quite verbally aggressive, trying to put the blame on our end, but aggressively. They were shouting, saying we’re incompetent, those kinds of words. I had to explain to them a few times, but they were not having it. I said: “I’m not finding this very respectful, this is not the way we can continue the conversation”.
It’s sad because we are doing what we can – we’re doing our part, we’re working to try to help them. But we can’t tell secondary care when to see them, we are also dependent on them to a great extent.
Later that day, I saw another patient face-to-face, and at the end they wanted something done. This was not something that I would have been able to do, they’d have to go to a specific department to do it, but they wanted it done there and then.
When trying to explain that to them, they stood up and started to get aggressive about the situation, and literally started coming at me. They were raising their chest. The body language was aggressive, and they were coming towards me each time. Every time I stepped back, they kept coming.
I had to open the door and tell the patient “no, please leave”. Then they went outside and there they were verbally very aggressive to our team, and others in the waiting room could hear.
They were saying nobody understands their situation, they need something now, and they don’t care about anything else. It was very loud. I can’t remember the exact words. I tried to put it away after dealing with it. But it was really the loudness and also, they didn’t swear explicitly, but they used some English words that were not nice.
At first I was shocked. I felt unsure, and unsafe, because I know there’s no security on the floor. There’s nobody around that is security. There’s nobody I can call. And when I tried to find the manager, they were not there, they were away at a meeting. There was no man around, only females. There’s a bit of fear that comes up, shock, disbelief, because you wouldn’t expect it. I was thinking “we just had a very good consultation, and it switches [clicks her fingers] like that because you want something now”.
We weren’t saying we’re not going to do what the patient requested, but that it needs a procedure.
When I asked the team to call security, they said we’d need to call security at the hospital and that would take a while. And I said: “we need to call someone”.
I ended up having to try to calm the patient down myself. I dreaded still having to go back and try to deal with the situation because there was no one else to do it. I tried to explain to them “I can’t have this conversation further because it’s not going anywhere, and I don’t find how you’re speaking to me decent”. Afterwards we were able to sort it out, and I left.
I don’t know if they would have actually done something physical. But the sad thing is that if something like that happens, the first thing you think of is “if this happens, even though I can do self-defence, I wouldn’t be able to”. Most of the time, GPs always get the blame for things, I don’t want that.
That was my third experience at the same place, and because of that, I decided to leave. I liked the practice, and I enjoyed working with my team. But as a female I didn’t feel comfortable, and I’m not leaving my house to go and experience this kind of thing every day. Feeling threatened at work – no. I thought “safety first”. I’m still practising, but I just don’t practise there.