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by Nora Elias
27 March 2019
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Practice managers are among the primary care professions most likely to suffer abuse at the hands of patients, a new report by Management in Practice publisher Cogora has found.
The Primary Concerns 2018: The State of Primary Care report, published today, revealed that a staggering 79% of the 373 practice managers who answered the question had been on the receiving end of verbal abuse from patients.
The report, which surveyed more than 2,300 primary care professionals across the UK – including GP partners, salaried GPs, nurses, pharmacists and healthcare assistants – found that 79% of pharmacists answering the question had also suffered verbal abuse.
This compares to 60% of nurses, 60% of salaried GPs and 57% of GP partners. The report, the sixth annual Primary Concerns report, also found that practice managers were the most likely to have received written abuse from patients, with 41% saying this had happened in the last 12 months.
This is more than twice as high as for the survey’s respondents as a whole – with the average percentage for written abuse across all professions being 18%.
The findings of this year’s report, revealing practice managers to be a high risk primary care group for all types of abuse, reflect the data from last year’s report.
While last year’s sample size was significantly smaller, with 1,353 respondents to this question compared to 2,006 this year, it similarly showed that 52% of practice managers had received written abuse.
While only 4% of practice manager respondents had been the victim of physical abuse, this still constitutes 15 incidents in the year leading up to the survey. This figure was in line with the findings for respondents in their entirety, for whom it was also 4%.
Member of the Practice Managers Association advisory panel Mairead Roche said a key reason practice mangers are so likely to face abuse from patients is that they are on the frontline of general practice.
She said: ‘Patients can’t [just] walk into a hospital and demand a specialist see them; they get sent to us. Secondary care waiting lists are not [getting any shorter] and patients are understandably frustrated with the waiting times. They want us to us to sort it out, when we can’t.
She added: ‘This, coupled with the fact that we can’t cope with the demand for GP appointments, means we get it in the neck for everything that is wrong with the NHS, as we are the only ones patients can actually get to see face to face.’
For the first time, the report – which surveyed primary care staff at the end of 2018 – also examined levels of sexual abuse by patients.
Although rates of this were low, 1% both for practice managers and across all professions, there were nevertheless five practice managers who had experienced sexual abuse.
Just 17% of practice managers said they had received no abuse at all, the lowest percentage of any of the primary care professions surveyed.
This was closely followed by pharmacists, with just 19% of pharmacists saying they had not received any form of abuse in the previous 12 months.
A fifth of practice managers, 20%, also cited verbal abuse from patients as a ‘very influential’ factor on low work morale.
While this was a significantly lower percentage than for factors such as ‘unrealistic demands from patients’, which 55% of practice managers said was very influential on low morale , and ‘too much bureaucracy’, for which the figure was 50% – it was the second highest in the report.
Only pharmacists recorded a higher figure, at 21%
Practice Management Network co-chair Steve Williams said: ‘It is true that abuse is something that sadly does exist in general practice.
‘While it is most of the time possible to deal with the matter locally, there may be times when the practice manager feels that they or their staff are under threat and then they may apply to have the patient removed from the list.’
As reported by Management in Practice, the Department of Health and Social Care in October last year announced a new ‘zero tolerance’ policy on abuse, designed to offer NHS staff – including general practice teams – greater protection against assaults and attacks.
For more on practice managers’ experience of abuse from patients, read our in-depth feature on the topic, where three practice managers tell us their stories of verbal and physical abuse at the hands of patients.