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Ministers condemn ‘abhorrent’ abuse of Covid vaccinators

by Simon Osborne
23 July 2021

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The vaccines minister has promised to ‘look at anything we can do’ to protect staff at NHS Covid vaccination centres against ‘abhorrent’ abuse.

Nadim Zahawi was responding to a question from Labour MP Rupa Huq, who said she was deeply concerned by reports of a surge in threatening behaviour at Covid centres across the country, Management in Practice’s sister title Pulse reported.

Ms Huq asked Mr Zahawi if he agreed that, ‘at a time when worryingly we hear of increased threats to vaccination centres – be they from the vile anti-vax propagandists outside this building right now or even people so keen to get jabbed that they leave vaccinators feeling vulnerable – nobody should feel intimidated when seeking perfectly legal healthcare?’

And she asked the minister if there was ‘scope for investigating an offence of violence towards NHS professionals, whether verbal or physical, in such a setting’, bringing the law ‘into line with the Protect the Protectors legislation we already have for ambulance staff and the police’.

Responding to the question in the House of Commons earlier this week, Mr Zahawi said that ‘a senior responsible officer embedded in the vaccination deployment team looks seriously at security every single day’.

He also said that the Government would ‘not hesitate to take action against anyone who threatens any member of staff or volunteer taking part in the vaccination programme’.

And he added: ‘It abhorrent and completely wrong for anyone to intimidate people looking to get their vaccination, the incredible NHS staff delivering it, the volunteers or anyone else in the extraordinary mobilisation we have experienced of the nation coming together and delivering the largest vaccination programme in history.

‘I will look at anything we can do to continue to protect our frontline staff.’

Practice staff targeted

Last month, a survey led by the Medical Protection Society found that as many as 75% of practice managers, practice nurses and GPs had suffered verbal abuse from patients during the Covid-19 vaccination campaign.

The survey of 222 practice staff reported that three-quarters had received abuse – such as shouting, swearing and emotional manipulation – from patients who were unhappy about issues such as eligibility and prioritisation for vaccination.

It also revealed that more than half (52%) of respondents had received threats of physical abuse, with 60% saying that this abuse, and complaints related to the campaign, had impacted their own or their teams’ well-being.

Additionally, around half (53%) said their practice or vaccination centre had been vandalised with anti-vaccine material or had had signage pulled down.

In May, the Institute for General Practice Management (IGPM) launched a campaign to end abuse towards general practice staff, which it marked with the release of a video featuring staff reading out examples of abuse they have received.

Ahead of the campaign’s launch, the IGPM conducted its own survey among 571 practice managers, three-quarters of whom said they receive abusive comments from patients daily.

The majority (83%) of respondents said they’d needed to remove a patient following multiple incidents, and 63% had called the police because of abusive behaviour.