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1 in 3 RSA doctors suffered abuse during Covid-19

13 November 2020

1 in 3 South Africa doctors have suffered verbal or physical abuse during Covid-19

  • “Patients don’t want to wait…so they abuse my staff.”
  • “A lot of patients seem to think that there is some big medical conspiracy.”
  • “I was robbed at my practice.”

Almost a third (31%) of healthcare professionals in South Africa say they have suffered verbal or physical abuse from patients, patients’ relatives, or members of the public during Covid-19, according to a survey by Medical Protection.

The Medical Protection survey results, which were announced at the organisation’s annual Ethics for All conference, showed that 26% of doctors have experienced verbal or physical abuse from patients or patients’ families during the pandemic. A further 5% said they had experienced verbal or physical abuse from members of the public outside of a medical setting.

Medical Protection – the world’s leading protection organisation supporting more than 32,000 healthcare professionals in South Africa – described the survey results as “deplorable”, and said the abuse presents yet another source of anxiety for doctors at the worst possible time. In the same survey, nearly half of South Africa doctors say their mental wellbeing is worse compared to the start of the pandemic.

Dr Volker Hitzeroth, Medicolegal Consultant at Medical Protection, said: “These survey results make for sombre reading and demonstrate that many doctors feel under attack. While this is a frustrating and extremely stressful time for the public, it is sad and deplorable to think that 1 in 3 doctors who go to work every day in the most challenging circumstances, putting patients first, face abuse. Not only in their place of work but in public too.

“Many doctors told us they have faced abuse from patients and families when trying to enforce social distancing and mask wearing. Doctors and staff have also been abused by patients being triaged and waiting for treatment.

“This presents yet another source of anxiety for doctors at a time when many have expressed grave concerns about their mental wellbeing. In our survey nearly half – 45% – of doctors say their mental wellbeing is worse compared to the start of the pandemic.

“Healthcare professionals in South Africa already faced a myriad of daily challenges prior to Covid-19. The pandemic has exacerbated these challenges; already burdened health resources are being stretched further, doctors are worried for the safety of their patients and their own families, and are now facing compounding threat of abuse from the very people they seek to care for.

“Without support to address an array of mental wellbeing concerns – including those caused by verbal and physical abuse – doctors are at risk of becoming disillusioned or will suffer in silence with psychological injuries, both of which put the safety of themselves and their patients at risk.

“Mental wellbeing is not just a challenge to be met by the Government; hospitals and professional societies have a part to play. Many professional societies have stepped up with dedicated colleagues looking after the wellbeing of their members. MPS has, since the beginning of the pandemic, extended its free and confidential counselling service to members experiencing work-related stress.

“A nationwide campaign to raise awareness and provide additional support would help join up these efforts and ensure those healthcare professionals who need specialist support can access it when they need it most.”


Notes to editors

  • Anonymous comments from healthcare professionals participating in the MPS survey:

“I was robbed at my practice”

“I have had patients and their escorts who verbally start arguing that they are ‘tired’ of abiding to the Covid regulation and refuse to wear masks.”

“I tried to approach a local store owner not adhering to social distancing or mask wearing enforcement in their store. I was verbally berated publicly as well as via a call. Upon calling authorities I came to determine that there was no quick recourse.”

“A lot of patients seem to think that there is some big medical conspiracy. So difficulties are often targeted at outpatient doctors.”

“Patients don’t want to wait…so they abuse my staff.”

“People often verbally abuse doctors and nurses if they have to wait, even though they are green or yellow codes.”

“I am only seeing people that are scared of having Covid or those with chronic conditions that have gone out of control. Patient fear is abnormal!”

  • The survey was conducted by Medical Protection. It ran from 22 October – 6 November and achieved 512 responses from members in South Africa.
  • For further information contact: E: kate.tullett@medicalprotection.orgT+44 (0)7515 298791.

Counselling service

Details of the Medical Protection counselling service including how to access the service can be found here

About Ethics For All

Medical Protection hosted its annual Ethics For All Medical Conference on Thursday 12 November, 2020. The virtual conference was attended by more than 3000 delegates, who heard from medicolegal and ethical experts on a range of topics including human factors in healthcare, the criminalisation of doctors, psychological wellbeing, and medicolegal myths. Information about the conference can be provided on request.

About MPS

The Medical Protection Society Limited (“MPS”) is the world’s leading protection organisation for doctors, dentists and healthcare professionals. We protect and support the professional interests of more than 300,000 members around the world. Membership provides access to expert advice and support and can also provide, depending on the type of membership required, the right to request indemnity for any complaints or claims arising from professional practice.

Our in-house experts assist with the wide range of legal and ethical problems that arise from professional practice. This can include clinical negligence claims, complaints, medical and dental council inquiries, legal and ethical dilemmas, disciplinary procedures, inquests and fatal accident inquiries.

Our philosophy is to support safe practice in medicine and dentistry by helping to avert problems in the first place. We do this by promoting risk management through our workshops, E-learning, clinical risk assessments, publications, conferences, lectures and presentations.

MPS is not an insurance company. All the benefits of membership of MPS are discretionary as set out in the Memorandum and Articles of Association.