Medics battling coronavirus on front line ‘have faced torrent of abuse’

10 August 2021, 00:28 | Updated: 10 August 2021, 11:02

Medics battling coronavirus have faced a torrent of abuse from patients
Medics battling coronavirus have faced a torrent of abuse from patients. Picture: PA

By Patrick Grafton-Green

Medics who have battled coronavirus on the front line over the last a year and a half have faced a torrent of abuse from patients, a new poll suggests.

The British Medical Association (BMA) warned of a "rising level of abuse" towards GPs as it called on the public to be kind to NHS workers.

A new poll from the doctors' union found that more than a third of doctors have faced "recent abuse" from patients or those accompanying them to appointments.

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This was even higher among GPs where half said they had been abused in some format during the last month.

The NHS said that it will "not tolerate" abuse or violence towards staff.

The survey of more than 2,400 doctors in England, Wales and Northern Ireland found:

  • A total of 37% had been verbally abused by patients, or those accompanying them to appointments, in the past month. This rose to 51% of GPs.
  • One in five GPs reported being threatened.
  • Some 34 doctors reported that they had been physically assaulted in the last month.
  • More than two in five (43%) said that they thought instances of threatening behaviour, violence or verbal abuse from patients had increased over the last year.
  • Doctors reported abuse occurring in a number of places from waiting areas to the consulting room.
  • Half reported seeing other staff abused by patients in the past year, including nursing staff, receptionists and healthcare assistants.

The survey comes after a warning that the NHS waiting list could rise to more than 14 million in England alone by autumn next year.

If millions of patients who did not receive care during the pandemic return to the health service for medical attention, then the number joining the waiting list could outstrip the number being treated, the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) said.

The BMA survey showed among those who had received some sort of abuse, 64% said they believed the perpetrator was dissatisfied with the service, including access.

In some instances the police were called, in other instances patients were removed from the GP's list but in half of cases no action was taken.

Dr Richard Vautrey, BMA GP committee chair, said: "Abuse, violence and threats are absolutely unacceptable and should never be tolerated.

"GPs and their colleagues are doing their absolute best, day in, day out, to provide care to their local communities, and we know that the vast majority of our patients appreciate the hard work we are doing. However, these findings show an incredibly worrying trend, with GPs reporting rising levels of abuse against staff in general practice, who are already working under intense pressure."

He added: "There must be an honest public conversation, led by the Government and NHS England, about the precarious state the NHS now finds itself in after 18 months of managing a pandemic, so that people have realistic expectations, and to prevent staff bearing the brunt of frustration and anger."

Dr Vishal Sharma, BMA consultants committee chair, added: "Doctors may pride themselves on being resilient, but that doesn't mean they should have to put up with being abused, threatened or - in a small number of cases - physically attacked by the very people they are trying to help."

A female GP partner in the South West said: "In just the last week I have been shouted at because I asked someone to do a PCR test for their new cough and fever, and was called the most horrifically offensive name after I asked someone not to come into the surgery waiting room with a cough, and instead asked them to come to our onsite 'hot clinic' where people with Covid symptoms can be seen safely.

"I was also told to 'go back to where you come from' by a patient who was unhappy at me being unable to tell him when he would be seen in hospital."

An NHS spokesperson said: "The NHS will not tolerate abuse or violence directed at staff and despite the despicable actions of a minority, the overwhelming support from the public during the pandemic has meant a great deal to staff, who are proud to have helped millions of patients over the last year."