Violence against GPs is still rife in N Ireland

Violent patients are still a problem facing 40 per cent of GPs in Northern Ireland. A BMA survey of doctors in the region found that just 12 per cent of GPs said violence was not a problem for them at all.

The number of GPs who considered the problem serious was 8 per cent, but 30 per cent reported an increase in violent incidents over the past year, marginally more than hospital doctors, of whom 28 per cent reported an increase.  

Forty-three per cent of GPs had personally experienced violence in the last year and a comparison with a BMA study from 2003 shows that the reported incidence of workplace violence has not improved since then: 44 per cent of GPs complained in 2003, compared with 43 per cent of GPs in 2006.  

Of the 43 per cent who reported aggressive incidents, many of them reported that violence had happened on more than one occasion.  

More than a quarter of all doctors who reported experience of workplace violence, had experienced physical violence or abuse. Among those doctors a third stated that they received minor injuries as a result of the incident and 3 per cent reported serious injuries.  

The BMA report claims that following a violent incident, ‘support was received by less than two-thirds of doctors’ and ‘around a third stated that their experience of violence had affected their work, either psychologically or physically’.  

The survey was conducted across all doctors in Northern Ireland, with a 19 per cent response rate. Forty-two per cent of the respondents were GPs.  

Despite a legal requirement for every health board to set up a directed enhanced service for violent patients since April 2004, less than 10 per cent of doctors reported having access to a secure facility to treat violent patients.  

Dr Brian Patterson, the BMA’s Northern Ireland Council Chairman, said: ‘The results of this survey bear out what we had feared, that violence in the medical workplace has not improved. The campaign launched back in March 2004 by the then health minister, Angela Smith, to tackle violence and intimidation against staff has obviously not worked.’  

However, GPC Northern Ireland chairman Dr Brian Dunn said progress was beginning to be made. While the Eastern Board already supplies a violence service, he said that the Northern Board had opened out-of-hours premises with a violent patients unit. The Southern Board was also in talks with GPs over a system of supplementary payments to practices that agree to take on violent patients. 

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