3 in 4 GPs and other practice staff involved with the Covid-19 vaccination programme say they have experienced verbal abuse from patients who have been unhappy about issues such as eligibility, prioritisation, and safety - according to a survey by Medical Protection.
In the survey of 222 GPs, nurses and practice managers in the UK, respondents told of shouting, swearing, threats to complain and emotional manipulation, with some citing common phrases such as “it will be your fault if I die”. One GP said a patient threatened to kill themselves if they weren’t given the first vaccine ahead of schedule.
The survey also showed that over half (52%) have received threats of physical abuse with some saying notes written and posted through the door or into a prescription box left staff concerned for their safety. Around the same number (53%) said the surgery or vaccination centre had been defaced by anti-vaccination material, such as graffiti or posters, or signage had been pulled down. A fire alarm was also set off maliciously at one vaccination centre.
3 in 5 (60%) go on to say that abuse and complaints relating to the Covid-19 vaccination programme have impacted on their own, or their team’s, mental wellbeing with a further 71% saying the increased workload resulting from the programme has affected wellbeing.
Medical Protection said the survey results were reflective of the extreme pressure primary care has been under, and the need for ongoing wellbeing support.
Dr Pallavi Bradshaw, Medicolegal Lead, Risk Prevention at Medical Protection, said: “A range of dedicated healthcare workers and volunteers have played a part in making what is the biggest inoculation programme the country has seen, a huge success. Many have found it rewarding, and the majority of patients have been positive and grateful.
“GP surgeries have however clearly borne the brunt of those with frustrations, and it is shocking and appalling that our frontline workers have been facing this sort of abuse. When this is set against the extreme pressure primary care has faced since the start of the pandemic, it is unsurprising that the mental wellbeing of GPs and other practice staff is suffering.
“In the survey, GPs, nurses and practice managers alike said they had encountered daily abuse in the form of shouting, swearing or emotional manipulation. This has mainly stemmed from dissatisfaction about not being prioritised above others, wanting a particular vaccine, the safety of the vaccines, and vaccination site locations.
“The additional workload as a result of the vaccination programme has also taken its toll on the mental wellbeing of GPs and practice staff, again against a backdrop of already stretched resources and burnout.
“GPs are mentally and physically exhausted with the risk of disillusionment and burnout higher than ever. Wellbeing support must be provided to all GP surgery staff who are feeling overwhelmed and demoralised, and a zero-tolerance policy to abuse must be enforced across the NHS so healthcare workers feel their safety is a priority.”
Notes to editors
- Anonymous comments from those participating in the Medical Protection survey:
“There was a lot of gratitude from those in the first few cohorts and then as we go down the age scales there has been anger and abuse.”
“Patients have been unhappy with location of sites, not being contacted, they feel they need priority over someone else, organising vaccines for housebound patients, the safety of certain vaccines.”
“Abuse - especially written and posted in the prescription box on the gate has resulted in the staff being very concerned for their safety at the surgery.”
“Daily verbal abuse from patients. ‘If you don’t sort it and I die…’ is a usual one.”
“I have had several angry and aggressive patients unhappy that they have not been vaccinated yet, that they are not yet eligible, their relatives are not eligible or that they have not had an invite for a local centre when they have had been invited to a mass vaccination centre. I have had two patients who were verbally abusive as they were not offered the make of vaccine they wanted.”
“Receptionists have been sworn at by patients especially regarding mix up/cancellation of appointments for their vaccine even though they were not booked by us or done at our surgery.”
“Oh where to start- we have been blamed for anything that went wrong in the programme.”
“We had a patient speak to a GP around safety of vaccines stating we were 'killing' people by giving vaccines – they were quite abusive to the GP.”
“I even had a patient threaten to kill herself if she wasn't given her first vaccine ahead of schedule.”
“Swearing, ranting and general rudeness. Text messages sent to the practice using expletives.”
“Shouting, occasional swearing, threats to complain, emotional manipulation - commonest phrase is 'It will be your fault' or 'You will be to blame' (if I die).”
“We have received threats of physical abuse.”
“Written nasty comments have been put through door of surgery.”
“Every member of the admin staff has had multiple episodes of verbal aggression, which has an impact on moral and wellbeing.”
“Staff of all disciplines are leaving the profession in droves re behaviour of the public creating unbearable working situations, moral is the lowest I have ever known, anyone near retirement is retiring early.”
“It has been draining, mentally and physically and I have struggled with my mental and physical wellbeing.”
“Almost everyone from reception to back office and patient facing has felt the impact of the increased workload and for some the constant short notice changes have been stressful.
“A huge amount of resource has been poured into this and it is difficult that the perception of the public remains that primary care staff continue to "sit in our ivory towers".
“We have come a long way from everyone clapping on the doorstep. Expectations have rocketed and intolerance seems worse than before. There is little understanding of the current workload which is likely to continue for some time yet. It’s frustrating, upsetting and demoralising.”
“Doing the vaccinating sessions has raised my morale - good to be involved in a programme that really does make a difference and the patients who attend on the whole tend to be appreciative. But there is increased workload in terms of providing the vaccinating sessions and covering for colleagues whilst they are.”
“The workload has increased massively. Giving vaccines takes people from their usual role. Patients are unwell, in pain, frightened, frustrated and angry about delays in secondary care so are often contacting us. I feel permanently stressed when at work because of the volume but also worried about patients.”
- The survey was conducted by Medical Protection - it ran from 21 May - 16 June and achieved 222 responses from GPs, practice nurses, nurse practitioners and practice managers in the UK. All respondents were invited to leave additional comments anonymously.
For further information please contact Kate Tullett, Media Manager at MPS: E: firstname.lastname@example.org T:+44 (0)7515 298791.
About Medical Protection
Medical Protection is a trading name of The Medical Protection Society Limited (“MPS”). MPS is the world’s leading protection organisation for doctors, dentists and healthcare professionals. We protect and support the professional interests of almost 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.