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Three-quarters of practice staff experience verbal abuse during vaccine campaign

by Jess Hacker
30 June 2021

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As many as 75% of practice managers, practice nurses and GPs say they have suffered verbal abuse from patients during the Covid-19 vaccination campaign, a survey has shown.

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.

Led by the Medical Protection Society and published today (30 June), the survey 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.

Dr Pallavi Bradshaw, medicolegal lead for risk prevention at the MPS, said that general practice has ‘clearly borne the brunt’ of patients’ frustrations with the vaccination programme.

‘When this is set against the extreme pressure primary care has faced since the start of the pandemic, it is unsurprising that the mental well-being of GPs and other practice staff is suffering,’ he said.

He added that the additional workload associated with the vaccination programme has also taken its toll on staff wellbeing, against a ‘backdrop of already stretched resources’ and burnout.

‘GPs are mentally and physically exhausted with the risk of disillusionment and burnout higher than ever,’ he said.

‘Well-being support must be provided to all GP surgery staff who are feeling overwhelmed and demoralised, and a zero-tolerance policy to abuse must be enforced across the NHS so healthcare workers feel their safety is a priority.’

Staff concerned for safety

One respondent said that patients had sent staff abuse via written notes posted in the practice’s prescription box, resulting in ‘staff being very concerned for their safety at the surgery’.

Others reported that their practice received the blame for ‘anything that went wrong’ in the national vaccination programme, with one stating: ‘Receptionists have been sworn at by patients especially regarding mix up/cancellation of appointments for their vaccine even though they were not booked by us or done at our surgery.’

Similarly, respondents cited abuse from patients as a factor in driving staff away from general practice: ‘Staff of all disciplines are leaving the profession in droves [because of] behaviour of the public creating unbearable working situations, moral (sic) is the lowest I have ever known, [and] anyone near retirement is retiring early’.

Data published in May revealed that only 111 fully-qualified FTE GPs joined the health service in England between March 2020 and March 2021, while the number of full-time administrative and non-clinical staff rose by just 1.6% to 70,003.

Also last month, the Institute for General Practice Management (IGPM) launched its campaign to support staff in response to a rise in abuse received from patients.