Vast majority of GPs face rising abuse and aggression from patients

Three in four GPs have faced rising abuse or aggression from patients over the past year - and half plan to retire early or quit the profession, polling by a leading medico-legal organisation shows.

GPs and practice staff facing abuse (Photo: mtreasure/Getty Images)

A UK-wide survey of nearly 2,000 doctors by Survation on behalf of medico-legal organisation the MDDUS found that 38% of GPs said verbal abuse from patients towards GPs and practice staff had 'significantly increased' in 2021 - while a further 38% reported it had 'somewhat increased'.

More than eight in 10 GPs who had experienced verbal abuse or aggression from patients said they were feeling more stressed now than when the UK first went into lockdown in 2020 early in the COVID-19 pandemic.

GPs were significantly more likely than other doctors to report a deterioration in their mental health and wellbeing over the past year - with 43% of GPs reporting a decline, compared with around a third of all doctors.

GPs facing abuse

Just over half of GPs who responded to the poll said they were considering early retirement or withdrawing from the profession altogether.

The survey showed that female GPs were more likely to face abuse and aggression than their male counterparts - 81% of women doctors said they had experienced a rise in abuse compared with 72% of male respondents.

More than two thirds of GPs reported a rise in complaints - with complaints about access to appointments up 82%.

MDDUS chief executive Chris Kenny said: 'The pandemic has stretched our healthcare professionals to the limit. For those at the very frontline it is clear now that the levels of stress have reached an almost unsustainable point. GPs urgently need recognition, reassurance and realism to support them so they can reset their relationship with patients.

Primary care funding

'These findings should be a wake-up call for policy makers up and down the UK. Their decision-making must factor in the clear connection between adequate funding and support for primary care services and health professionals, and patient safety.'

Findings from the MDDUS survey mirror those from a GPonline poll published earlier this year - which also found three in four GPs had experienced a rise in abuse from patients over the past 12 months. GPs reported being attacked, sworn at and threatened.

Doctors' leaders have hit out repeatedly at misleading comments around access to face-to-face appointments during the COVID-19 pandemic and false claims that practices were 'closed' as a key factor that has contributed to the surge in abuse.

Suggestions from the MDDUS poll that increased pressure could deliver a further blow to a GP workforce that has shrunk by around 1,700 doctors since 2015 come after the biannual University of Manchester GP worklife survey suggested that 12,000 GPs could quit within the next five years.

Early retirements

Meanwhile, GPonline reported earlier this year that early retirements by GPs had risen to a four-year high in 2021 as the impact of COVID-19 heaped further pressure on an already overstretched profession.

MDDUS chief medical officer Dr John Holden said: 'The results of our survey are distressing. We know GPs work hard to ensure all patients receive care when they need it.

'Being a GP can be one of the best jobs in the world, but right now GPs need to feel valued, supported and empowered. In addition, regulators will need to redouble their efforts to communicate to all healthcare professionals that their systems have been revised to take into account the extraordinary conditions doctors and dentists have worked through since 2020.'

A DHSC spokesperson said: 'Deliberate violence or abuse directed at NHS staff is unacceptable - we are working to tackle this to ensure staff are able to work in a safe and secure environment.

'The NHS has established an NHS Violence Reduction Programme which aims to support and protect the NHS workforce against deliberate violence and aggression from patients, their families and the public, and to ensure offenders are punished quickly and effectively.

'We have also set out our plan to tackle the COVID-19 backlog and boost workforce recruitment, backed by our record multibillion pound investment over the next three years.'

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