Covid Scotland: Nine in ten GP practices say staff facing abuse from patients

Almost nine in ten GP practices say a member of staff has been subjected to verbal or physical abuse in the past month, according to a survey from doctors’ union BMA Scotland.

Just under 80 per cent of practices said the issue of abuse had become worse since May.

GPs are “maxxed out”, chair of the BMA’s Scottish GP committee Dr Andrew Buist said, as the union called for urgent support for practices.

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More than 500,000 appointments were held by GPs in one week in October, BMA Scotland said, meaning the equivalent of 10 per cent of Scotland’s population seeking help in a five-day period.

Nine in ten GP practices said a staff member had been a victim of abuse in the last month.Nine in ten GP practices said a staff member had been a victim of abuse in the last month.
Nine in ten GP practices said a staff member had been a victim of abuse in the last month.

This figure is based on a survey of 375 GP practices, around 40 per cent of the total in Scotland, which was extrapolated by the BMA to estimate the figure across the country.

The high volume of appointments, which are both in-person and virtual, demonstrate “how hard general practice is working”, said Dr Buist.

Because of this, morale among GPs has fallen recently in the face of public perception that they are not working hard, he added.

“We're working differently, no doubt about it,” he said.

"These 500,000 appointments are a mixture of remote and in person or face to face, but that's a good thing.

“There's great benefit to doing a hybrid system of remote and face to face. It allows us to offer more appointments.

"Many patients appreciate not having to go to the surgery to get what they need sorted out, and it overall allows us to increase the number of appointments.

“If we were only to provide face-to-face consultations, we wouldn't be able to do 500,000. There are just not enough hours in the day.”

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A total of 500,000 appointments a week is a similar figure to pre-pandemic levels, Dr Buist said, but represents a greater workload now due to infection control measures.

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The BMA called for an end to abuse of GPs and other practice staff.

Some 88 per cent of respondents to the survey said a staff member had been subjected to verbal or physical abuse in the past month, while 78 per cent said this had worsened since the previous survey was carried out in May.

This most often manifests in raised voices, swearing and other aggressive language, Dr Buist said, and is most often directed towards reception staff rather than GPs.

“It's often not the doctor that gets it, it's usually the receptionist on the front desk as they are seen as a ‘softer target’,” he said.

“It's not acceptable and it doesn't give you a good feeling when you go into to work.”

Dr Buist added: “We need to be absolutely clear, once and for all, that this is totally unacceptable and will not be tolerated.

"The Scottish Government has been extremely strong on this, which we welcome, and have worked closely with us to develop reasonable, open and honest messaging on face-to-face appointments.”

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A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “We now have a record number of GPs working in Scotland with more per head in Scotland than in the rest of UK.”

They added: “Any kind of abuse directed towards our health service staff is totally unacceptable. They have played a pivotal role in our battle against the pandemic and deserve our gratitude and respect.”

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