Editorial: We must have data for attacks on GPs

Are attacks on GPs taken seriously? This is the question the headline on our analysis on pages 23 and 24 asks.

NHS data show attacks on NHS staff, including GPs, rose in England by 3.3% from 2010/11 to 2011/12. But the data do not make clear what proportion of those incidents involved GPs or practice staff.

GP used the Freedom of Information Act and found more than half of the UK's 52 police forces were unable to calculate how many attacks took place in GP premises. In forces that responded, attacks on GPs remained static but those against practice staff rose by 50% between 2010/11 and 2012/13, although the actual figures are small.

GPC chairman Dr Richard Vautrey describes this as 'a serious and possibly growing problem', but without the actual figures it is very difficult to assess the scale of that problem.

Practices have a part to play in this and GPC Scotland negotiator Dr Colette Maule's suggestion that staff should report all such instances to the police seems sensible.

There are also ways practices can deal with the problem of violent patients, as Dr Simon Abrams, whose practice takes on patients others do not want because of incidents involving the police, describes (page 24).

The BMA is warning that patient access will suffer as a result of this year's contract changes, meaning patients will wait longer for appointments, leaving them frustrated and more likely to hit out.

The potential for patient violence against GPs and practice staff seems likely to increase against the current backdrop of pressure to make NHS savings. NHS England may have ruled out collecting specific data about attacks on GPs, but this is something that NHS Protect, which provided the England data in the analysis, should consider.

After all, it says: 'Staff committed to providing our NHS should never be expected to suffer an assault at work and it will not be tolerated.'

GP agrees and suggests the first step would be to collect the figures that might strengthen the case for GPs and practice staff to have more protection.

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