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GPs and staff experience verbal abuse on a weekly basis, survey finds

by Jaimie Kaffash
23 January 2023

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Three-quarters of GPs say they and their staff experience verbal abuse from patients on a weekly basis, an exclusive Pulse survey of 1,000 GPs has revealed.

The survey of GPs across the UK also revealed that almost half say they or practice staff have experienced physical abuse from patients, while two-thirds have been subjected to social media abuse.

Meanwhile, the majority of GPs said that complaints around access have increased in the previous year.

There have been a number of cases of practices facing violence in recent months, including practices being vandalisedstaff being assaulted and threats of arson.

Respondents to the survey, which ran from 23 November to 5 December 2022, said that receptionists are leaving due to abuse.

The new survey revealed that practices across the UK are experiencing abuse, verbal and physical. It revealed:

• 74% say they or their staff have experienced face verbal abuse on a weekly basis, including almost 40% who say it occurs daily;
• 45% say they or practice staff experience physical abuse every year;
• One-third say they or their practice staff experience abuse on social media on a weekly basis;
• 68% said that the number of patient complaints around access increased in 2022, with 41% saying it significantly increased.

Dr Richard Brown, a GP in Carmarthenshire, said: ‘There seems be a seismic swing away from “clap for the NHS” that’s only a few months ago to today where abuse is rife again. Last week a patient, without any mitigating circumstances, was desperately abusive to one of my receptionists bemoaning the fact it wasn’t the US where she could buy a gun and “sort us all out”. Primary care seems the bearing the brunt and blamed by all and sundry for the current issues and the public are picking up on this.’

Others said that they are dealing with verbal abuse on a daily basis, while another said they are struggling to recruit receptionists as a result of the abuse they are facing.

One practice in North Yorkshire has been shut for a few months due to problems recruiting support staff, which they say is partly due to the abuse faced by receptionists.  

Dr Kieran Sharrock, acting chair of GPC England at the BMA, said: ‘Any kind of abuse against GPs and their teams is completely unacceptable. No one should ever go into work fearing that they will be abused, let alone physically.

‘We understand that patients are often in pain and distress when they interact with the health service, and that current pressures and a lack of staff mean it can take longer to access the care they need. However, we cannot let people take their frustrations with the system out on those who are just doing the best they can in difficult circumstances.

‘Abusive behaviour ultimately has a huge impact on morale within practice teams, and makes staff question whether they want to stay in the health service. In the midst of a serious workforce crisis, we simply cannot afford to lose any more talented healthcare professionals.’

Professor Kamila Hawthorne, chair of the RCGP, said: ‘The findings from this survey are deeply concerning as they show that abuse is now a common experience for GPs and practice staff who are working to their limits – and the reports of physical abuse are particularly distressing. It’s entirely unacceptable for anyone working in general practice to be at the receiving end of abuse of any kind when they are just doing their best to deliver safe, timely and appropriate care for their patients.’

An NHS England spokesperson said: ‘GP teams are working hard to carry out millions more appointments every month compared to before the pandemic. It is unacceptable that NHS staff are subjected to abuse while doing their jobs. 

’Any practice staff needing more support can get help via our wellbeing app or by accessing our coaching sessions which thousands of people have already benefited from.’

A version of this article was first published on our sister title Pulse.

Keep Your Practice Safe

Management in Practice has launched a campaign to #KeepYourPracticeSafe as more GP practices across the country are facing abuse. In a series of articles, we will share how practices are responding to the issue and what can be done to help safeguard staff. 

Read more stories from our campaign here: 

Managing patient abuse – how one practice removed its in-person reception

How practices can safeguard their staff from the impact of patient abuse

GP practice trialling ‘meet and greet’ reception following abuse from patients

GP practice urges patients to stop abuse after staff brought to tears

How to deal with aggressive patients

Managing patient abuse: ‘We’re constantly trying to adjust our systems to help’

Practice forced to close due to abuse and receptionist shortage

And if you would like to get more involved in our Keeping our Practice Safe campaign, express a view, share an experience or write a blog/other article on the subject, please get in touch with editor Rima Evans.