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Practices experienced increased verbal abuse, survey finds

by Costanza Potter
22 April 2022

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Three-quarters of GPs have reported facing increasing patient abuse last year, according to a survey.

The Medical and Dental Defence Union of Scotland (MDDUS) surveyed almost 2,000 members across the UK, including 668 GPs, about their experiences last year compared with 2020.

It revealed that 76% of GPs reported an increase in verbal abuse from patients towards them and their practice staff. Half of these (38%) said this had ‘significantly increased’ and the other half that it had ‘somewhat increased’ throughout 2021.

Female GPs were more likely to face verbal abuse or aggression than their male counterparts, with 81% reporting an increase in this compared with 72% of their male colleagues.

The survey found that this has led to a ‘huge increase in work-related stress’, MDDUS said.

Among GPs who experienced verbal abuse or aggression in the workplace, 83% said they felt ‘more stressed’ than they did in 2020.

The survey also found:

  • In general, around half (49%) of all UK health professionals (GPs, hospital doctors, dentists and allied health professionals) said their current stress levels were worse in comparison to the first wave of Covid-19 and a third (34%) said their health and wellbeing levels had also worsened
  • Frontline GPs and practice managers are ‘struggling the most’ with ‘plunging morale and a crisis in their mental health and wellbeing’ and 43% reporting a downturn in their health and wellbeing
  • Just over half (51%) of GPs are considering taking early retirement or leaving the profession, citing increased workload, mental health and wellbeing and staff shortages as the primary reasons

MDDUS chief executive Chris Kenny said: ‘The pandemic has stretched our healthcare professionals to the limit. For those at the very frontline, it is clear now that the levels of stress have reached an almost unsustainable point.

He added: ‘These findings should be a wake-up call for policymakers up and down the UK. Their decision-making must factor in the clear connection between adequate funding and support for primary care services and health professionals, and patient safety.’

Meanwhile, the survey also revealed that GPs are ‘highly concerned that neither Government nor regulators have the right systems and rules in place to deal fairly with complaints made by patients about decisions or actions taken during the pandemic’, MDDUS said.

It found that more than 70% of GPs said the volume of complaints they received had increased and of those, complaints relating to ‘the availability of consultations’ had gone up by 82%.

But 70% of GPs do not think the Government is prepared for the impact of complaints relating to healthcare delivered during the Covid pandemic and more than half (55%) ‘remain concerned’ that their regulator is also not prepared.

It comes as rising levels of abuse against GP practice and pharmacy staff last month prompted one ICS to launch a campaign urging patients to consider what would happen if the staff member quit their job.

This story was initially published on our sister title Pulse.