- “Patient’s partner threatened to kill me as he felt his wife had waited too long to be seen.”
- “I had a handful of my hair ripped out despite the patient being in handcuffs and with the police.”
- “I have been backed up against a wall by parents who wanted better nursing for their child in intensive care. We literally had no staff.”
- “My team and I have been verbally abused, threatened and spat at.”
More than half of doctors in the UK (56%) say they have experienced or witnessed verbal or physical abuse from patients or their relatives in the past 12 months, with 48% of those saying the incidents resulted from staff shortages and 45% saying it was due to the referral waiting list.
In the Medical Protection survey of nearly 900 doctors, 85% of those who have experienced or witnessed abuse in the past 12 months said it affected their mental health, and a quarter (24%) said an increase in abuse and intimidation from patients has made them consider their career in healthcare.
Nearly a third of doctors (31%) also feel abuse against healthcare professionals is not taken seriously by police.
The Medical Protection survey follows an investigation last month, which revealed more than 35,000 cases of rape, sexual assault, harassment, stalking, and abusive remarks recorded in the NHS between 2017 and 2022.
Medical Protection – the world’s leading protection organisation supporting over 300,000 healthcare professionals – called on the Government, police, and NHS employers to take “every possible step” to tackle the issue.
Medical Protection President, Professor Dame Jane Dacre, said: “While staff shortages and long referral waiting lists are frustrating and stressful for patients and their families, healthcare professionals are doing their best in very difficult circumstances. While many patient interactions are positive it is distressing that so many healthcare workers face daily verbal and physical abuse from patients – including being spat at and threatened.
“What is perhaps worse is the notion that abuse is becoming ‘part of the job’, with some healthcare professionals becoming desensitised to it and therefore neither reporting nor seeking support following incidents.
“Abuse against healthcare professionals should not be normalised. Experiencing and witnessing abuse can have a lasting and profound impact on mental health and this can be damaging for the individual as well as for patient care. It can also result in healthcare professionals needing to take time off work, and even quitting medicine altogether.
“The zero-tolerance policy to abuse must be rigorously enforced right across the NHS so healthcare workers feel their safety is a priority and are empowered to report all abusive behaviour. The policy must also be visible to patients, as a deterrent.
“All healthcare settings should provide an appropriate forum where those who witness or experience any kind of abuse from patients can talk about it and seek appropriate wellbeing support. It is not enough to just have this safe space - staff need to know it exists and be encouraged to use it.
“Police and Crime Commissioners, and police forces across the UK, should consider how they can support local healthcare settings, for example, by encouraging reporting of abuse and offering practical advice on recognising warning signs or de-escalation techniques.
“There are some positive examples of police forces and Commissioners engaging with LMC’s following GPs’ concerns over rising abuse and these should be learned from. More broadly, there is a need for research to ascertain the additional training needs for staff across the NHS for dealing with conflict and protecting themselves from violence.
“The Government, police, and NHS employers must take every possible step to tackle this issue. If we don’t act, we may lose many more skilled, committed healthcare workers at a time when the profession can ill-afford it.”
Healthcare professionals who participated in the Medical Protection survey commented anonymously:
“Patient’s partner threatened to kill me as he felt his wife had waited too long to be seen.”
“My team and I have been verbally abused, threatened and spat at.”
“Frequent fights and aggressive behaviour outside our surgery. Aggressive, abusive language and behaviour often directed at the reception team.”
“I was physically and verbally abused by a patient because of the time they would have to wait for their operation.”
“Verbal abuse on a daily basis. I recently had a handful of my hair ripped out despite the patient being in handcuffs and with the police.”
“I have been backed up against a wall by parents who wanted better nursing for their child in intensive care. We literally had no staff. We are on our knees.”
“I have had patients being racially abusive and police will not do anything about this.”
“Daily abuse of reception staff about lack of appointments and regular anger to GPs from relatives and patients about secondary care (and primary care) waiting times.”
“Patient being verbally abusive about the time she had to wait, that we were not good enough as doctors, it made me want to cry.”
Notes to editors
For further information contact [email protected]
- 56% of respondents have seen or witnessed verbal or physical abuse from patients or patients relatives in the past 12 months
- 45% said this abuse was due to frustration over the referral waiting list
- 48% said this abuse was due to frustration caused by staff shortages
- 24% said increasing abuse or intimidation from patients has made them consider their career in healthcare
- 31% feel abuse against healthcare professionals is not taken very seriously by police
- 43% of those who have seen or witnessed verbal or physical abuse from patients or patients’ relatives in the past 12 months say it is having a significant or moderate impact on their mental wellbeing. A further 42% said it is having a little impact.
About Medical Protection
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.