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

Post date: 18/11/2020 | Time to read article: 4 mins

The information within this article was correct at the time of publishing. Last updated 18/11/2020

  • “I have been sworn at for using the NHS queue at the supermarket.”
  • “I have had more unpleasantness from patients in the last 6 months than in all my previous 50 years in healthcare.I am almost at the point of stopping all clinical practice.”
  • “There is too much verbal abuse to mention but the most upsetting is patients believing that we haven`t been open – we are all on our knees.”

Over a third (35%) of healthcare professionals say they have suffered verbal or physical abuse from patients, or patients’ relatives during Covid-19, according to a survey by Medical Protection.

The Medical Protection survey of 1250 doctors in the UK, also showed that a further 7% have experienced verbal or physical abuse from a member of the public outside of a medical setting, with some saying they have been sworn at for using the NHS queue at the supermarket.

This follows reports that GP’s are facing abuse and complaints from patient’s who believe they aren’t offering enough face-to-face appointments, despite face-to-face appointments increasing in recent months. One practice in Bristol was a victim of offensive graffiti on their premises this week.

Medical Protection said the abuse presents yet another source of anxiety for doctors at the worst possible time. In the same MPS survey, 2 in 5 doctors say their mental wellbeing is worse compared to the start of the pandemic.

Dr Pallavi Bradshaw, Medicolegal Lead, Risk Prevention at Medical Protection, said: “These survey results make for difficult reading. 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 at the supermarket.

“One doctor told us they had experienced more unpleasantness in 6 months than in all their previous 50 years working in healthcare. Another told us they have been sworn at for using the NHS queue at the supermarket.

“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 2 in 5 doctors say their mental wellbeing is worse compared to the start of the pandemic.

“For most, Covid-19 will be the biggest health crisis in their careers, with countless patients and colleagues lost. 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.

“The NHS people plan sets out some credible support initiatives, but we need to see more concrete commitment to their implementation – through the support of central government funding. Those working in private healthcare settings must also be supported.”

END

Notes to editors

  • Anonymous comments from healthcare professionals participating in the survey:

“I have had more unpleasantness from patients in the last 6 months than in all my previous 50 years in healthcare.  I am almost at the point of stopping all clinical practice.”

“We had a 5 day backlog of swab results in wave 1 and if we suspected Covid-19 we had to transfer to a query Covid-19 ward. Families were accusing me of killing their vulnerable relative. It was out of my control but the hate and blame were hard, and still haunt me now. So little thanks just angry, desperate relatives.”

“I experienced assault partially precipitated by a patient not being able to see his mother, in the context of worry and concern and her being in hospital.”

“I have been sworn at for using the NHS queue at the supermarket, which was shorter than normal queue.”

“Patients are often much more verbally aggressive about the new ways in which we are working and have a much lower tolerance/patience for the NHS system. The increasingly long waiting times for specialty referrals has led to a huge amount of patient dissatisfaction.”

“One patient said to me ‘It's alright for you, your job must be a doddle now that no patients are coming to the surgery. We are being treated like animals whilst you all sit in your ivory towers with nothing to do’. Public perception is frustrating - we have never been busier”

“I received abuse for ‘skipping’ queues using my NHS badge at the start of Covid-19.”

“I have experienced people swearing at me and telling me that they won’t clap for the f*****g NHS. Another said ‘Boris Johnson told you to see me’. We are being blamed when guidelines change, and accused of failing in our duty of care. It’s been really tough - hate feeling like GP land is the kick bucket for the NHS.”

“There is too much verbal abuse to mention but the most upsetting is patients believing that we haven`t been open - we are all on our knees in general practice and it doesn`t look like it`s getting any better.”

  • The survey was conducted by Medical Protection. It ran from 17 September – 16 October and achieved 1251 responses from members in the UK.
  • For further information contact: E: kate.tullett@medicalprotection.org T:+44 (0)7515 298791

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.

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