Oakham Medical Practice in Rutland posted a statement on its website earlier this week informing patients that its front desk had been closed 'due to excessive verbal abuse and physical intimidation of our patient services team'.
Partners at the practice have said they will review the decision in a month's time - suggesting that until then the reception desk will not be accessible face-to-face.
Leicester, Leicestershire and Rutland LMC (LLRLMC) has backed the decision by the practice to close its reception desk - and called the move a 'very sad, but inevitable consequence of the increased amount of abuse experienced by general practices while dealing with the greatest health crisis in a generation'.
GPs facing abuse
GPonline reported in April that three in four GPs had experienced rising aggression and abuse from patients over the previous year - with many planning to retire early or quit general practice. Meanwhile, appointments in general practice rose by 4m in March compared with the previous month while the GP workforce has shrunk by more than 350 GPs over the past year.
LLRLMC urged the press to 'stop scapegoating general practice' - after articles in parts of the media accusing GPs of treating patients with 'contempt' for highlighting the mismatch between soaring workload and the declining GP workforce - and urged patients not to take out their frustrations on NHS staff.
The LMC also called on NHS England to scrap plans to expand general practice opening hours. Changes to the PCN DES for 2022/23 imposed by NHS England will require practices to make a broad range of routine services available across network areas between 6.30 and 8pm on weekdays, and from 9am to 5pm on Saturdays.
LLRLMC chair Dr Nainesh Chotai said: 'The current situation is due to increased workload while the number of GPs has decreased. Although GPs are providing the highest number of appointments ever recorded, the increased workload due to the pandemic means that we cannot provide the service that our patients want and we would like to provide.
'NHS England ploughing ahead with plans to expand general practice opening hours when they have not delivered on the needed increase in workforce and are not recognising the highest workload ever recorded is foolhardy. This could be the final nail in the coffin for NHS GP services.'
Responding to abuse faced by general practice staff, he added: 'GPs understand the frustration of patients who struggle to make appointments with them, but verbal or physical abuse is not an acceptable response.
'Most practices are small business owned and run by the GP partners who have a legal duty to protect their staff from abuse.'
LLRLMC board member Dr Grant Ingrams added: 'Every GP I know has experienced an increase in abuse by patients and their carers during the pandemic. This has been fuelled by inaccurate and abusive press articles in some newspapers, and a lack of support by the government and politicians.
'My own practice has lost two members of staff due to increased abuse. General practices should be congratulated and not abused for providing an ongoing service throughout the pandemic despite a decrease in GPs and a significant increase in workload.'
The statement from Oakham Medical Practice informed patients that they could book in on arrival at the practice via a screen in the practice foyer, urging patients to 'be mindful of the way in which you speak to all members of our team' and warning that staff 'are working extremely hard and should not have to tolerate abuse'.
Due to excessive verbal abuse and physical intimidation of our Patient Services Team, the Partners have made the decision to close our front desk. Patients with booked appointments can check in using the screen in the foyer. For all other queries, please visit our website.— Oakham Medical Practice (@MedicalOakham) May 12, 2022
LLRLMC also called on NHS England to 'research the causes of poor recruitment and retention of GPs, and act to rectify them'.