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IGPM asks MPs to spotlight issue of abuse against healthcare staff in Parliament

by Rima Evans
29 September 2023

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The Institute of General Practice Management (IGPM) has written to MPs requesting that the issue of abuse directed at GP staff is urgently raised in Parliament.

The letter sent earlier this month follows three recent attacks on surgeries – one where staff at a practice in Crewe faced ‘threats to kill’ from a man brandishing two knives, and another, an arson attack on a surgery in Yorkshire during which a member of staff was also assaulted.

The third was at an incident of violence at a practice in Cornwall, where staff were again threatened by a man carrying a knife.

‘We felt we needed to write to our local MPs to highlight this continued abuse and asked for this to be raised in Parliament,’ co-director of the IGPM Nicola Davies told Management in Practice. ‘It feels like the issue is hidden and just stuffed under the carpet. They know it happens, but the Government doesn’t want to do anything about it’.

The letter tells MPs that: ‘Verbal abuse is a daily occurrence within GP surgeries and threats of physical violence towards staff are becoming more and more prevalent. At a time when GP surgeries are providing more appointments than ever, with fewer GPs, we feel that we can no longer sit back and wait for the Government to take action.  It is clear to us that we are being expected to accept this level of behaviour as “the norm” ‘.

Pointing out that it is difficult to recruit frontline staff into an environment where abuse is common, the letter explains, ‘verbal and physical abuse leads to staff leaving which impacts on remaining staff who are working to cover the shortage.  Patients don’t seem to realise that with fewer staff, we cannot attend to them in a timely fashion – so they wait and wait for phone lines to be answered, which increases frustration and anger.  It is a vicious circle.’

The letter also goes on to say that while every patient feels they have a right to access healthcare, GPs, nurses and staff also they ‘have a right to be able to work in a safe and secure environment, free from harm from the very people we are trying to help’.

Finally, it adds: ‘We would respectfully request that the issue of abuse towards healthcare staff is urgently raised in Parliament.’

So far, the letter has received a response of support from MP Steve Double, whose St Austell and Newquay constituency is where one of the recent attacks at a surgery took place.

Meanwhile, Alex Chalk, MP for Cheltenham, as well as secretary of state for justice and Lord Chancellor, has in separate discussions with the IGPM said he has raised concerns about the issue with the health secretary, Steve Barclay.

‘We have yet to hear back as to whether this has been raised in Parliament as we have requested,’ said Ms Davies.

She added: ‘Between 2021 and 2022, there were 1,068 incidences of violence against NHS staff – up from 568 in 2017/18.  These figures are from those reported as police incidents. However, the ongoing, daily verbal abuse that doesn’t escalate into physical violence is often not reported to the police – so the actual figures will be much higher.’

Two years ago, the IGPM released a video aiming to raise awareness of the abuse experienced by receptionists in GP practices.

And last year, Management in Practice launched a campaign called Keep Your Practice Safe, providing advice and guidance on how to manage abuse and threatening situations and protect staff from harm.