Covid Scotland: Three in four GPs face increased abuse from patients, survey finds

Three quarters of Scottish GPs have faced increased verbal abuse from patients during the pandemic, a survey has found.
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The “distressing” survey results revealed a “huge increase” in work-related stress and anxiety between 2020 and 2021, with more than half of GPs saying they were considering taking early retirement or leaving the profession. The main reasons given were increased workloads, mental health and wellbeing, and staff shortages.

The survey was carried out by the Medical and Dental Defence Union of Scotland (MDDUS), which supports healthcare professional against claims of negligence.

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The British Medical Association (BMA) said its members have also seen increases in abuse from patients, with nine in ten GP practices reporting that staff members had faced abuse.

Picture: Hugh Hastings/Getty ImagesPicture: Hugh Hastings/Getty Images
Picture: Hugh Hastings/Getty Images

Dr Andrew Buist, chair of the BMA’s Scottish GP committee, said the root cause of the issue is a “serious shortage” of GPs, and the solution lies in recruitment and retention.

Of those GPs who reported abuse in the MDDUS survey, 83 per cent said they were feeling more stressed than they did before the pandemic.

The survey also found that female GPs were more likely to face abuse, with 81 per cent of female doctors saying they had experienced an increase compared to 72 per cent of men.

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Chris Kenny, chief executive of MDDUS, said the pandemic had “stretched our healthcare professionals to the limit”.

He said: “For those at the very front line it is clear now that the levels of stress have reached an almost unsustainable point.

“GPs urgently need recognition, reassurance and realism to support them so they can reset their relationship with patients.”

The survey findings should be a “wake-up call” to policy makers, he said.

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Dr John Holden, chief medical officer at MDDUS and a former GP, added: “The results of our survey are distressing. We know GPs work hard to ensure all patients receive care when they need it.

“Being a GP can be one of the best jobs in the world, but right now GPs need to feel valued, supported and empowered.”

Dr Buist said: “There is a serious shortage of GPs in Scotland, and so I appreciate patients can at times have difficulty getting an appointment, and that can cause frustration – but it is never acceptable when this spills over into abuse.

"Shortages of appointments are at the root of this so we need to step up our attempts to recruit and retain more GPs in the workforce.”

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Abuse is “totally unacceptable and will not be tolerated”, he said.

"The Scottish Government has been extremely strong on this, which we welcome, but we need all politicians to go on emphasising this position. No one – and least of all those people in caring services – should face abuse for doing the best they can in extremely trying circumstances.”

A Scottish Government spokesperson said abuse of staff is “completely unacceptable”.

They added: “We continue to encourage all NHS organisations to support staff to report incidents so that action can be considered against perpetrators.

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“Anyone attending a health care or clinical setting should remember that staff are there to help them and not to be abused. The wellbeing of practice staff is hugely important and a number of resources have been developed to support them.”