WE ARE A MAGAZINE ABOUT LAW AND JUSTICE | AND THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN THE TWO
July 14 2024
WE ARE A MAGAZINE ABOUT LAW AND JUSTICE | AND THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN THE TWO
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New survey reveals high abuse rate of UK doctors by patients 

New survey reveals high abuse rate of UK doctors by patients 

Life in the justice gap: illustration from Proof magazine, issue 3. Simon Pemberton

Over half of UK doctors have witnessed or personally experienced abuse at the hands of patients or their relatives in the last year, according to a new survey.

The abuse includes threats, racial abuse, being backed up against walls, having their hair pulled out, and being spat on. The survey showcases a number of testimonies from doctors who have personally experienced abuse on a frequent basis.

Many doctors also believe the police do not take abuse incidents against them seriously enough. The recurring incidents and lack of support from police have led some NHS care providers to take extra security measures, including providing their staff with body-worn cameras, increasing security, and installing CCTV cameras. 

The survey by the Medical Protection Society (MPS) found that the increase in aggression is caused by staff shortages and long waiting times. Over half of the doctors surveyed pointed to lack of staff being a cause, while 45% blamed patient frustration on long waiting times. Dr. Latifa Patel, the British Medical Association’s workforce lead, highlighted the underfunding and understaffing in the NHS leading to the organisation being less effective in taking care of distressed patients.

Over 56% of doctors surveyed by the MPS admitted to witnessing or experiencing abuse of some kind. One doctor reported that the partner of a patient threatened to kill them due to long waiting times, while another said they were backed up against a wall because the patient wanted better care for their child. Yet another doctor disclosed how they had a “handful” of hair ripped out “despite the patient being in handcuffs and with the police.” A family doctor recounted how there was “daily” abuse of reception staff and GPs due to frustration about not having available appointments and long waiting times.

Out of the 861 UK doctors surveyed, 3 in 10 believed police did not take abuse against medical staff cases seriously. Prof Jane Dacre, president of the MPS, stated: ‘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.’

Despite the funding and staffing issues, Dr Patel urges ‘the public not to take out their exasperation on doctors or our colleagues who share the same frustrations and are acutely aware that waiting times are too long.’

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