In a letter to the health secretary today, BMA chair Dr Chaand Nagpaul called for stronger legal measures to protect healthcare workers against abuse from patients, asking for tougher punishments for both physical and verbal attacks.
Requests for greater safeguards for NHS staff come as four members of a GP practice in Manchester were violently attacked last week, leaving one GP with a fractured skull.
The union has called on the government to condemn the ‘onslaught of abuse and media scapegoating of GPs and their staff’, following a letter sent by GP committee chair Dr Richard Vautrey yesterday condemning a Daily Mail campaign calling for more face-to-face appointments.
BMA GPC leaders have also requested a separate meeting with the government to discuss its concerns about an ‘unprecedented rise’ in workload and to explore what support can be offered to GP practices as they enter a busy autumn-winter period.
In the letter, Dr Nagpaul said the BMA was ‘deeply shocked’ by the attack at a GP practice in Openshaw, Manchester, last week - and outlined a list of measures the government should employ to offer greater protection, including:
- increasing the maximum sentence for assault against emergency workers from 12 months’ to two years’ imprisonment;
- verbal abuse against emergency workers to carry a ‘heavier punishment’;
- a ‘comprehensive national violence reduction strategy’ to educate the public and support NHS staff.
Highlighting abuse experienced by GP teams, Dr Nagpaul wrote: ‘The narrative that practices are not offering face-to-face appointments is as dangerous as it is inaccurate. The reality, as you must know, is that with the constraints of the size of GP practice premises, there are limits on how many people can safely be present in a waiting room while adhering to appropriate infection control measures.
‘While it may suit some sections of the media to portray appointments as being reduced, the fact is that GPs are seeing more patients than ever, working longer hours than ever... It is soul destroying for GPs and their staff to hear the narrative that they are “closed”.’
Dr Nagpaul emphasised the ‘immense efforts’ of GP teams in leading the COVID-19 vaccination campaign, and the booster programme will be for general practice this winter, on top of the annual flu campaign. The GPC has requested a separate 'urgent meeting' to address workload concerns.
He added: ‘Rather than endorsing a media narrative which scapegoats GPs, show them your support for their dedication. Without this support more and more GPs will leave the service, making the manifesto pledge of 6,000 additional GPs inadequate, even if were achievable.
‘It is too late for the staff in this specific practice in Openshaw, but I call on you now to speak openly and unequivocally in support of general practice, to meet with our GP committee chair, and to attend an emergency summit to address the situation before it gets much worse. I look forward to hearing from you so that we can begin to work together on addressing the huge challenges ahead with honesty, integrity and compassion for all.’
A recent BMA survey found that half of the GPs had personally experienced verbal abuse, with two-thirds saying they had witnessed abuse directed at staff. Another two-thirds said that their experience of abuse had become worse over the last year.
GP leaders in Cornwall warned that surgeries are 'on the brink of a crisis' and may not cope this winter if there is a surge of flu and other respiratory illnesses alongside a rise in COVID-19 cases.