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Government to fund practice ‘panic buttons’ as part of campaign against abuse

by Simon Osborne
18 October 2021

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GPs will have access to a £5m security fund as part of a new campaign to tackle patient abuse, NHS England has said.

The funding can be used for security enhancements GPs ‘think they might need’, such as ‘panic buttons’ or CCTV, according to the health secretary.

The move, which comes amid soaring levels of confrontational and aggressive behaviour from patients, forms part of Sajid Javid’s package of support for GPs announced last week.

NHS England guidance, published last Thursday, said it would ‘immediately establish a £5m fund to facilitate essential upgrades to practice security measures, distributed via NHS regional teams’.

But speaking on BBC Breakfast last week, health secretary Sajid Javid said that ‘if there are practices that think they might need, for example, CCTV, panic buttons or other kinds of support, then that is available if that’s what they need.’

He added: ‘There are people out there, and I have seen it myself on social media, that have given abuse to GPs and there has actually been violence against GPs and it is completely, totally unacceptable.

‘So there will be a zero-tolerance policy and one of the things I want to do in this package, again based on the feedback I was getting from GPs, is to offer support on that.’

The Government and NHS England will work with trade unions and the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges to launch the ‘zero-tolerance campaign on abuse of NHS staff’, the official guidance said.

It added that NHS England will also work alongside the BMA’s GP Committee, the RCGP and patient groups such as Healthwatch and National Voices to ‘develop communications tools that can help people to understand how they can access the care they need in general practice’.

NHS England said: ‘We understand the frustration of patients who were not able to access appropriate care when they needed it, but we are clear that is never an excuse for abuse or violence against staff.

‘The NHS has a zero-tolerance approach to abuse and violence against its staff. There is no place for aggression, abuse, incivility, or any acts of violence in our society.’

It added: ‘General practice staff are dedicated to delivering care for patients, and have the right to work free from fear of assault or abuse in a safe and secure environment.

‘If a person is violent, abusive or threatening to their GP or any general practice staff, they can be permanently removed from the surgery.’

NHS England said it was already taking action to protect and support staff through a ‘violence reduction programme’ and working closely with the police and the Crown Prosecution Service to ‘bring offenders to justice’.

The Government is legislating for the maximum prison sentence for common assault to be doubled to two years if the victim is an NHS worker through the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill 2021, it added.

GPs have warned that the growing chorus of criticism over patient access to face-to-face consultations from sections of the media and some politicians is a key factor behind the surge in confrontations with angry patients.

RCGP chair Professor Martin Marshall last week told the college’s annual conference that GPs had found themselves at the centre of a ‘public storm over face-to-face appointments’.

He said: ‘The malicious criticism of the profession by certain sections of the media and by some politicians as a result of the shift towards remote working – introduced to keep our patients and our team safe and keep the service operating – has been the worst that I can remember in over 30 years as a GP.

‘This widespread vilification of hard-working GPs and our teams is unfair, it’s demoralising and it’s indefensible. No one working in general practice deserves this abuse.’

It comes as a GP practice in Staffordshire was forced to close for two days last week after staff felt compelled to walk out due to verbally abusive behaviour from patients.

And a man charged with assault after attacking and injuring four GP practice staff in September is due to appear at Manchester Crown Court this month.

Meanwhile, updated NHS England guidance published last week said GP-led Covid vaccine sites should review their ‘security plans’, be aware of undercover protestors and work with their local police forces to ensure sites operate safely.

This story first appeared on our sister title, Pulse.