Exclusive: 'Jail patients who attack GPs'

Patients who assault GPs should receive a mandatory jail sentence, according to 73 per cent of GPs.

An exclusive GP survey found support for a strengthening of the law with 70 per cent of GPs worried about the escalation of aggressive behaviour in surgeries.

Almost a third said the problem had grown worse over the past 12 months.

Of the 263 GPs who responded to the survey, 64 per cent had been verbally assaulted on at least one occasion since July 2006.

Six per cent had been physically attacked and two had chairs thrown at them by patients.

All primary care organisations (PCOs) must have a treatment centre and referral protocol for violent patients in place as part of the violence directed enhanced service (DES) for violent patients. But our survey found that 39 per cent of GPs said their PCO does not operate a violence DES.

GP recently reported that Northern Ireland might be the first country in the UK to introduce mandatory prison sentences for patients who attack GPs (GP, 1 June 2007).

This hard line was adopted in Scotland in 2005 for attacks on blue-light workers but not GPs.

In England and Wales the Criminal Justice and Immigration Bill, if ratified, will give magistrates the power to hand out £1,000 fines for the new offence of 'causing nuisance or disturbance on NHS property'.

But home visits and many GP surgeries would not be covered.

Most GPs surveyed were in favour of mandatory jail sentences except where patients had a history of mental illness.

Acting GPC chairman Dr Laurence Buckman said: 'The idea of stronger guidance to the courts and making judges aware that this is a problem for GPs is one that I have a lot of sympathy for.'

But he disagreed with mandatory imprisonment, saying it would hamper judges.

He added that as far as he was aware, all PCOs operated a violence DES.

'That 40 per cent of GPs don't know about theirs is worrying,' added Dr Buckman.

Dr Brian Dunn, GPC Northern Ireland chairman, backed mandatory jail for GP assaults: 'People have to get the message that if they assault us, they should go to prison.'

NHS head of security management Richard Hampton said before 2003 there was no avenue to report violence.

'Many GPs don't report incidents and there needs to be a cultural change within the NHS because it is not acceptable for GPs to think being assaulted is part of the job,' he added.

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