Campaign launched to tackle 'daily abuse' of GP practice staff

Three quarters of GP practice staff receive abuse from patients every day including assaults, threats, racism and sexism, according to a poll by campaigners calling for a 'zero-tolerance' approach.

Photo: Robert Johns/UNP
Photo: Robert Johns/UNP

Practice staff have had their car tyres slashed, been spat at, threatened with weapons and faced racist and sexist abuse, according to a poll by the Institute for General Practice Management (IGPM).

The torrent of abuse faced by practice staff has increased alongside soaring demand through the pandemic, the poll found.

A campaign led by the IGPM calling for a 'zero tolerance' approach to abuse has been named 'If I die, it will be your fault' - after one of the common abusive remarks aimed at staff working in GP surgeries.

GP staff facing abuse

The poll found 75% of GP practice staff experience abuse daily, with the vast majority reporting it was mainly a 'combination of threatening behaviour, racist abuse, and sexist abuse'.

Around two thirds of 571 respondents said they had been forced to call the police over abusive behaviour towards staff, and more than four in five said they had needed to remove a patient from the practice list after multiple incidents of abuse.

South Gloucestershire practice manager Robyn Clark - a co-founder of the IGPM - said: 'As demand for GP services has increased dramatically over the last year, sadly so has the amount of abuse practice staff have faced.

'The aim of our campaign is to highlight the good work practices are doing, and make a plea to the public to be patient with our staff, instead of attacking them. GP staff have worked throughout the pandemic and have done their absolute best to support patients. We’re calling for the abuse to end now.'

Watch the campaign video:

The findings come as GP practices have reported a surge in abuse from paitents triggered by media reports demanding an expansion of access to face-to-face appointments in general practice.

More than half of appointments in general practice have been delivered face-to-face during the COVID-19 pandemic despite NHS England advice that practices should adopt a 'total triage' model.

Face-to-face GP care

But practices have come under repeated pressure to offer more face-to-face care. NHS England was forced to apologise last September after an 'offensive' letter reminded practices that face-to-face appointments should be available to patients who need them.

The BMA warned at the time that the letter had triggered a wave of abuse and complaints towards practices from patients who had read 'ill-informed media articles'.

The issue has returned to the spotlight over the past week after NHS England again reminded practices to offer face-to-face appointments and published an updated standard operating procedure for general practice that says all patients should be offered face-to-face appointments if that is their preference - triggering a furious response from GPs who have warned that they are not contractually obliged to offer in-person appointments irrespective of clinical need.

GP leaders have passed a vote of no confidence in NHS England's leadership and voted to suspend negotiations with NHS officials.

NHS violence

Practices managers have spoken out as part of the campaign about the violent reactions they can face when patients perceive they are being denied treatment in the form they want.

Kay Keane, a practice manager in Stockport and director of the IGPM said: 'A man attended our practice with six knives because he didn’t get the treatment he wanted. He smashed up the waiting room and threatened staff members.

'It was a scene we never want repeated. It was terrifying and unnecessary. But we also know this is extreme - bad language and threats are an everyday occurrence, and it is unacceptable.'

Jo Wadey, a practice manager in Worthing and founding member of the IGPM commented: 'Receptionists are leaving their roles because of the abuse they receive, which means we are continually trying to recruit and train, which puts a huge strain on practices.'

Nicola Davies, a practice manager in Cornwall and founding member of the IGPM added: 'We hope that by raising the personal effect of abuse on staff, we can encourage patients to be tolerant and understanding. Our staff are doing their job. It is never a personal vendetta to stop a patient from accessing healthcare.'

Polling by GPonline and the MDU published earlier this year found that GPs were around twice as likely as their hospital counterparts to experience abuse from patients during the pandemic.

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