Doctors and their staff working in GP practices across England report a torrent of abuse from patients, some receiving hateful messages while others have been left shaking and in tears by physical attacks and verbal.
Some family physicians have said The independent they are afraid to come to work and have seen staff quit because of threats they receive almost daily.
Some surgeries have been the subject of bomb threats, while others have been smeared with graffiti. Staff at a firm in London have received hate mail threatening workers about their role in the rollout of the Covid vaccination. Others have received abusive text messages describing the staff as “b ***** ds Nazis”.
GPs say the majority of problems are caused by the overwhelmed demand system and a false perception among some patients that GPs are closed and seeing fewer patients as a result of the Covid crisis.
Delays in being able to get appointments due to a crisis in the number of GPs and an increase in patients wishing to see a doctor mean that some patients have to wait weeks for non-appointments. urgent.
But GPs face a relentless workload, with many on call for long hours, dealing with increasingly complex cases and more administration, as a growing number of patients await hospital treatment due growing NHS arrears are turning to their GPs for help.
A recent survey by the British Medical Association found that half of doctors and two-thirds of general practitioners had seen colleagues experience violence or abuse.
A GP practice in London reported a hate mail it received to police, after staff received multiple photocopies of a notice informing doctors and nurses that they would be “tried for war crimes and held responsible ”.
The practice said, “This was photocopied several times, put in envelopes and individually addressed to each of our clinicians, and posted through the door after dark.
“We have had a number of abusive responses via text, email, phone and in person as we try to keep all patients in the know.”
The independent spoke with GPs working in surgeries across England who fear the increasing levels of anger they are seeing from the public will cause more GPs to quit their jobs, further exacerbating the crisis they are already in faced primary care.
Dr Emily Ball, a general practitioner working in Liverpool and a member of the EveryDoctor group, said she remained shaky and in tears after an abuse tirade from a patient angry at the delays to her appointments at the hospital.
In another incident earlier in the year, police had to be called when a man demanding antibiotics forced his way into the office and followed staff while verbally insulting them. The man was not even a patient in the office.
Dr Ball said: “We had to call the police. It was scary and this member of staff is unsurprisingly gone now.
“It’s the most insidious daily verbal abuse that is a real problem and has led staff to fall ill. It’s not a day that ends with a “y” unless someone is brought to tears by a patient. This makes it very difficult to retain staff.
She is supposed to work 31 hours per week, but has calculated that she currently works an average of 65 hours per week.
“We are on our knees. Yet there is this perception that we have stopped seeing patients face to face and we haven’t. We saw people who needed to be seen, throughout the process.
Describing her own experience of abuse from an angry patient, she said, “He told me I was ‘fucking useless’, that I shouldn’t practice and that it was a shame. that we don’t care about our patients. Several times he said he thought I should be reported to the GMC. I was physically shaking afterwards.
Dr Ball, a GP for 14 years, warned the long-term impact will worsen the existing crisis for GPs as their numbers have not kept pace with increasing population and demand. .
“When you have an already demoralized workforce and they start getting fired by the very people that they literally kill themselves trying to help, what happens is people start to become exhausted, they begin to get sick; and that means there is more pressure on the doctors who stay, so they burn out, they get sick, and before you know it you won’t have a manpower.
A survey of more than 330 GP practices in London in June found that more than half said the current demand for them was unmanageable, with 82% warning it was affecting staff well-being . Four-fifths of practices said patient satisfaction was affected.
Nearly half of the practices had vacancies for general practitioners, with some practices being forced to consider closing their doors – a move that would affect 22,500 patients.
Birmingham GP Lizzie Croton, a member of the Physicians’ Association, said there were now more ways for patients to contact GPs through digital services, which she said meant more than “Cognitive load” for physicians.
“We are faced with increasing demand from patients. All the people I see think they need to see us, and they’re in some sort of distress.
“Our doors are wide open electronically and also physically, but every contact generates a workload. I work a few extra hours each day and rarely have a lunch break.
“There have always been expectations in the NHS, but what’s different right now is people aren’t getting dates, or if they are, it’s months away. We had verbal abuse especially from reception and administration staff mainly due to the wait. Most of the time it’s very understandable and you share the frustration of the patients, but we got some where it was personal.
“People are less tolerant of having to wait to talk to someone.”
In addition to the frustration over wait times and patients demanding faster appointments, GPs have also been on the front lines of a response to the Covid crisis and vaccination programs.
A general practitioner in London described how a patient who had received a vaccination reminder letter ‘barged’ into a back office and started yelling at staff.
They said: “The man was aggressive enough that we called 999 – shouting, cursing, coming very close and ‘confronting’ us. He filmed part of the incident, despite our requests not to, and the video then ended up on Twitter.
“This is just the worst of a number of incidents. We have had the reception staff in tears several times over the past few weeks because the patients or loved ones have been so rude. “
The NHS has asked many GP practices to send text messages and reminders to residents to encourage them to get vaccinated.
The independent were shown several examples of aggressive and rude messages sent to surgeries in response.
Dr Michelle Drage, Managing Director of Local Medical Committees in London, said: ‘NHS England and the government need to get the message across nationally that GPs are working as hard as possible, and those across the country. the reception desk, the consultation room or at the end of the telephone are people, not a faceless sounding board for frustrations.
“Staff at the London cabinet are receiving swear words in response to vaccination reminders, and those who make calls are abused and threatened with reporting to regulators, all simply for following NHS instructions. Even people who are simply reluctant to get the vaccine are known to become abusive after repeated contact. “
The Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP) said there was a serious misconception about the work done by general practitioners, who always saw patients when needed. He said practices were busier than ever while simultaneously delivering two-thirds of all Covid vaccinations.
Professor Martin Marshall, Chairman of RCGP, said: “It is totally unacceptable that anyone who works in general medicine is the victim of abuse of any kind, let alone the threat of physical violence.
“General practice has been open throughout the pandemic and face-to-face appointments have been offered whenever safe and appropriate.
“The real problem is that we have a huge shortage of general practitioners and our workforce is not large enough to handle the needs of an aging and growing patient population with increasingly complex needs. This was the case before the pandemic and it was only exacerbated by the events of the last year. “
He said it was essential for the government to honor its pledge of 6,000 more general practitioners by 2024.