A third of doctors have received abuse from patients during the pandemic

One in three doctors have experienced verbal or physical abuse from patients or patients' relatives during the COVID-19 pandemic, a survey has found.

The poll of 1,250 UK doctors by the Medical Protection Society (MPS) also found that 7% of doctors have been on the receiving end of agressive behaviour from a member of the public while not working, with some reporting being sworn at for using the NHS queue at supermarkets.

The findings come after GPonline reported that practices across England have continued to face abuse and complaints in the wake of an 'insulting' letter on face-to-face care from NHS England last month. Despite an apology from NHS England medical director Dr Nikki Kanani, GPs have said they feel like they are bearing the brunt of complaints about health services during the pandemic.

Offensive graffiti was sprayed on a practice in Bristol last week, which GPs who work at the surgery said was the result of the negative media coverage of the profession.

Mental health concerns

Dr Pallavi Bradshaw, MPS medicolegal lead, risk prevention, said: 'While this is a frustrating and extremely stressful time for the public, it is sad and deplorable to think that 1 in 3 doctors who go to work every day in the most challenging circumstances, putting patients first, face abuse. Not only in their place of work but at the supermarket.'

Dr Bradshaw said that the abuse was 'another source of anxiety for doctors'. Two in five doctors responding to the survey reported that their mental wellbeing was worse than at the start of the pandemic.

Last week GPonline revealed that more than 200 GPs a month are seeking mental health support from NHS Practitioner Health as COVID-19 continues to put pressure on the NHS. The free service for NHS doctors and dentists was being contacted by around 60 doctors a week before the pandemic, but this has risen to over 100 per week on a regular basis.

NHS Practitioner Health medical director and former RCGP chair Professor Dame Clare Gerada said that, while the rise in numbers was across all specialities, GPs now accounted for around 60% of new presentations to the service.

Verbal abuse

One GP responding to the MPS survey said: 'There is too much verbal abuse to mention but the most upsetting is patients believing that we haven't been open – we are all on our knees in general practice and it doesn`t look like it`s getting any better.'

Another said: 'Patients are often much more verbally aggressive about the new ways in which we are working and have a much lower tolerance/patience for the NHS system. The increasingly long waiting times for specialty referrals has led to a huge amount of patient dissatisfaction.'

'I have had more unpleasantness from patients in the last six months than in all my previous 50 years in healthcare. I am almost at the point of stopping all clinical practice,' one doctor said.

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