GP practices can now consider deregistering patients who have ‘unnecessarily persistent or unrealistic service demands that cause disruption’, according to new guidance from NHS England.
Stating that protecting GP teams’ mental health is ‘as important’ as protecting their physical health’, NHS England has updated guidance on managing unacceptable patient behaviours to also include non-violent abuse.
These include patients:
- Using bad language or swearing at practice staff or other service users;
- Unnecessarily persistent or unrealistic service demands that cause disruption;
- Verbal, non-verbal and environmental slights, snubs and insults which communicate hostile, derogatory or negative messages;
- Behaviours that target a person based on their protected characteristic or belonging to a marginalised group. These can be intentional and unintentional and are based on biases (either conscious and unconscious).
The guidance goes on to say that ‘where a patient has acted inappropriately or unacceptably, the provider will need to carefully consider’ if the incident ‘meets the relevant criteria for removal from the practice patient list’.
In doing so, the practices should take into account ‘the nature and severity of the incident/behaviour, the impact on practice services, staff or other service users and the patient’s own circumstances’, and:
- If the incident does meet the relevant criteria for removal from the practice patient list a practice will need to decide whether it is ‘nevertheless willing to continue to manage its relationship with the patient or proceed with the removal’.
- If the incident does not meet the relevant criteria for removal from the practice patient list, the practice will need to decide ‘how it will manage its continuing relationship with the patient’.
NHS England’s guidance added that removing a patient from the practice list is ‘expected to be an exceptional event’.
Urging GP practices to update their policies on unacceptable behaviours, NHS England said it ‘supports and requests that providers practice policies addressing inappropriate and unacceptable patient behaviours also explicitly include positions on not tolerating any form of discrimination, harassment or victimisation’.
Practices advised to review their policies
The Medical Defence Union (MDU) has advised practices to look at their policies on unacceptable patient behaviour to ‘explicitly’ include not tolerating any form of discrimination, harassment or victimisation.
MDU medico-legal adviser Dr Ellie Mein said NHS England’s new guidance will ‘go some way to reassuring practice teams, who have worked so hard at a time of immense pressure, of the situations when action should be taken’.
‘There is increasing evidence that abuse and violence against primary care staff has worsened over the last two years and we support many practices to take action following an incident,’ she added.
‘We encourage GP practices in England to review and update their policies accordingly.’
GPs can also approach their indemnity provider for ‘advice on whether to issue a patient with a warning, instigate an acceptable behaviour agreement or remove a patient from the practice list,’ Dr Mein said.
Earlier this month, a GP practice stopped offering a face-to-face reception to protect staff after they suffered ‘excessive verbal abuse and physical intimidation’ from patients.
And almost one in three GPs and practice staff have been physically abused at work by patients, according to the shocking results of a recent survey.
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