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GPs are facing 'daily abuse' as violent assaults at surgeries double in five years

The BMJ links the increase in violence to the rise in GPs leaving the profession.

Credit: CDC / Unsplash

The number of violent assaults at GPs practices that are reported to police has doubled in the last five years, an investigation has found.

Recorded incidents of stalking and harassment at GP surgeries have also tripled over the same period, the British Medical Journal found. The publication estimates this is largely being driven by a surge in “malicious communications” that includes sending letters or emails that are indecent, grossly offensive or threatening.

The figures highlight how assaults, harassment, and other forms of abuse aimed at doctors and reception staff had worsened during the pandemic, with GP leaders blaming the increased pressure put on services and “some sections of the media (perpetuating) the notion that GP services were ‘closed’.”

Richard Van Mellaerts, a GP in Kingston Upon Thames and an executive officer for the BMA’s GP Committee suggested the dramatic increase in remote consultations and fewer GPs taking on more work as possible drivers for aggression. 

“We appreciate patients’ frustrations and upset with delays in their care, but those frustrations need to be channelled into holding governments to account in order that they invest appropriately in general practice and solve these systemic issues, not taken out on their GPs and practice staff,” said 

Mallearts warned the rise in violent incidents and abuse will only exacerbate the NHS recruitment crisis, labelled by a recent report from a cross-party group of MPs as the greatest factor preventing the service tackling its 5.8 million patient backlog

In 2021 there were around 1,756 fewer full-time, fully qualified GPs working in practices in England than there were in 2015. As a possible remedy to address the burnout that is seeing health service staff quit or retire early, top doctor Professor John Ashton suggested the NHS adopt a four-day working week.

Richard Vautrey, a GP in Leeds and former chair of the BMA’s GP committee, cited the “often daily abuse that staff are having to deal with,” saying that the police crime figures were just “the tip of a much, much bigger iceberg” of what surgeries have to deal with. 

A Department of Health and Care spokesperson said, “Deliberate violence or abuse directed at NHS staff, who continue to work tirelessly to provide care, is unacceptable – all staff, including GPs and their teams, deserve to work in a safe and secure environment.

“The NHS violence reduction programme aims to protect the workforce and ensure offenders are punished quickly and effectively, and the government has taken action to support this – including by passing legislation to double the maximum sentence for assaults on emergency workers, including those in the NHS.

“Security measures including CCTV, panic buttons and screens at reception have also been rolled out across GP surgeries.”

An NHS spokesperson said: “The NHS will not tolerate abuse or violence towards its staff and, despite the despicable actions of a minority, is grateful for the overwhelming sense of national support NHS workers have received from the wider public over the last two years as it stepped up to fight covid.”

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