Medics who have battled coronavirus on the front line for more than 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.
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 that among those who had received some sort of abuse, 64% said they believed that the perpetrator was dissatisfied with the service, including access.
Dr Richard Vautrey, BMA GP committee chair, said: “The last year-and-a-half has been an incredibly challenging time for both doctors and patients, and many doctors share the frustration of their patients around unfamiliar ways of working, or if waiting times are too long.
“However, 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.
“Facing such abuse leaves doctors fearing for the safety of themselves, their colleagues and their loved ones, which can have a profound effect on their wellbeing.
“It can leave even the most resilient GP feeling alienated and undervalued, leaving them questioning their career when the NHS can ill afford to lose any more staff in general practice. Meanwhile, being on the receiving end of rudeness can impact productivity and the quality of work, ultimately threatening patient care.
“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.
“Alongside the urgent need for support for general practice and the wider NHS from Government so that we stand a chance of meeting the growing needs of our patients, we’d continue to remind the public to be kind and considerate when contacting their surgery – we are humans too, after all.”
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.
“We understand that when people interact with the health service, they are often in pain and distressed – with the Covid-19 pandemic increasing feelings of apprehension due to services working in different ways, or some treatments being delayed.
“However, we cannot let people take out their frustration at a system on individual doctors or their colleagues who truly are doing their best in the most difficult of situations.”
A female GP partner in the South West said: “We get shouted at, spoken to harshly and called unkind and unhelpful, often for things that are not within our control, such as hospital waiting lists, and the fact that we have to ask people to be considerate of others to keep everyone safe, by doing things such as getting tested for Covid, and not coming in when they have Covid symptoms.
“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: “It is not acceptable that NHS staff – who have devoted their days, nights and weekends to protecting patients in one of the most challenging environments ever faced – are experiencing abusive, intimidating and violent behaviour.
“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.”