Leader: The slings and arrows of outraged patients

Why are GPs in the UK more likely to suffer patient abuse than GPs elsewhere in Europe? According to the latest European Barometer survey, GPs in northern Europe are far more likely to be physically assaulted; one in three GPs in the UK, France and Germany reported at least one incident of physical abuse compared with less than one in five in Italy and Spain.

This is an interesting split. Is it something to do with the countries, the people or the climate? Are southern Europeans less violent or more laid back because the weather is warmer? Is it because the quality of life is better in these poorer but sunnier and less industrialised countries?

The situation becomes even more interesting when it comes to verbal abuse.

This is rife here. Only 6 per cent of UK GPs said they had never been subjected to it, whereas elsewhere it ranged from 13 to 26 per cent. Eight out of 10 UK GPs have experienced verbal abuse more than once, compared with only six out of 10 in France and Germany, and four out of 10 in Italy.

Why do patients here want to yell at their GPs more than anywhere else in Europe? Do they have less respect for them or are they just more angry and frustrated?

The government frequently tells the profession that the NHS is the envy of the world because it is free at the point of use and relatively cost-effective, because most patients are managed in primary care, with GPs gatekeepers to secondary care. But perhaps it is this system that is causing the problem.

Patients continually have their expectations raised. They are told they can exercise choice. However, in reality the NHS is not endowed with infinite cash - there are waiting lists and rationed treatments.

For most patients the GP is the face of the NHS and their sole contact.

Therefore, it is no surprise that it is the GP they vent their frustrations on when their expectations are not met. But, however unsurprising, it is a deplorable state of affairs that still requires action.

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