Speaking out against abuse of NHS primary care staff

The Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh condemns all physical and verbal aggression against healthcare staff, including those working in primary care.

Last year, nearly 15% of NHS staff had physical violence from patients, their relatives or the public.

And more recently, the BMA surveyed 2,400 doctors in England, Wales and Northern Ireland – finding that while 37% of respondents had experienced abuse first-hand in the preceding month, many more GPs (51%) than hospital doctors (30%) said they had. In addition:

  • Half (51%), including 67% of GPs, had seen colleagues experience violence or abuse.
  • Consultants had most often seen nurses being abused while 96% of GPs said verbal hostility was usually directed at receptionists.
  • Two-thirds (67%) of GPs said abuse had worsened over the last year.
  • And 64% believed the abuse was prompted by the culprit’s discontent at the care they had received or waiting time involved.

GPs have said that abuse occurred most often in their consulting rooms, while consultants said it happened for them on the wards.

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has set out the steps employers should take to reduce the risk of work-related violence in health and care, as well as some actions that individual doctors can take.

The College calls on government across the UK to stand shoulder to shoulder with healthcare workers, in condemning abuse of colleagues.

Professor Andrew Elder, President of the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh, said:

Healthcare is a team game. We should be as concerned about physical violence and abuse of colleagues in primary care as we would be about such violence and abuse in our own units, hospitals and specialties.

Furthermore, our concern should also extend to nursing, allied health and all other professionals we work with.

Whilst, colleagues in emergency medicine have had to deal with similar problems in the past, the current level of hostility against and criticism of general practitioners is unprecedented.

The Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh condemns all physical and verbal aggression against healthcare staff.

Dr Jonathan Guckian, Co-Chair of the Trainees and Members Committee, added:

The Trainees & Members Committee stands together with our general practice, emergency medicine and ambulance service colleagues who have continued to care for patients throughout the pandemic.

Over the past two years, primary and secondary care services have repeatedly adapted to meet the demands of the pandemic, in a system which was already under strain.

GP, emergency medicine and ambulance service teams have demonstrated flexibility and resilience while experiencing unprecedented pressures. They have provided care for patients affected by COVID-19, and they have maintained care for those affected by other conditions.

We recognise the impact of the pandemic on trainees in GP and Emergency Medicine who have continued to progress and provide care to their communities, despite unprecedented disruption to their medical education.

Abuse has no place in our healthcare system or our society. We unreservedly condemn any attacks on our colleagues and call on our leaders to share in this support, publicly.