Violent assaults against staff at GP surgeries have doubled in the last five years

Violent incidents at GP surgeries have doubled since 2017 amid perfect storm of staff shortages and soaring demand – including assaults and ‘malicious’ emails and letters

Number of violent incidents has risen to over 1,000, nearly doubling in 5 years Stalking and harassment of staff have almost tripled to over 200 in that time GPs say No10 needs to deliver on getting more staff to ease patient frustrations

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Violent incidents at GP surgeries have doubled in the last five years amid a perfect storm of rising demand and dwindling staff numbers, figures show.

UK police recorded 1,068 violent acts — which involve physical assault and nasty emails — at practices in 2021/22 compared to 586 in 2017/18.

One GP in England who was threatened with being stabbed claimed the problem was that patients now expect too much from their doctor. 

The rise comes as GP services face a staffing crisis with 1,500 fewer fully qualified family doctors working in England than five years ago.

Separate figures released yesterday show that some areas of the country have just one GP for every 2,500 patients, which doctors say is ‘unmanageable’.

GP services were heavily disrupted by the Covid pandemic with tens of millions of appointments cancelled or done remotely so doctors could focus on the virus, leading to a post-pandemic rise in demand.

But many patients are still struggling to see a GP as services fail to bounce back, with less than half of appointments being conducted face-to-face.

The data on violence was collected from 32 UK police forces under Freedom of Information (FOI) requests made by the British Medical Journal (BMJ).

It also showed stalking and harassment of staff at GP surgeries have almost tripled over the last five years. 

GP leaders have slammed the rising level of violence as ‘entirely unacceptable’ and called for Government to address staffing shortages that are fuelling patient anger. 

UK police recorded 1,068 violent incidents – which involve physical assault and nasty emails – in total compared to 586 in 2017. They are broken down above

Official figures show just 63 per cent of consultations were carried out in-person in England in April. At the current rate, it would take until September 2023 to reach the more than 80 per cent of appointments being made in person seen before the pandemic

England’s GP postcode lottery was laid bare yesterday as official data showed some areas have half as many doctors per patient as others. Nuffield Trust analysis shows there are 39.5 GPs caring for every 100,000 people in Portsmouth. People in Thurrock have 40.3 family doctors for every 100,000 people in the area and in Hull there are 41.9 per 100,000

The BMJ sent freedom of information requests to the 45 police forces in the UK.

They asked for the number of recorded crimes committed at general practices and how each crime was categorised.

Of the 45 forces contacted, 42 responded, of which 32 were able to provide data for the past five years.

The data shows assaults resulting in injury to staff— the most serious type of incident— rose to 182 in 2021/22, almost double the 98 recorded five years prior. 

There also 223 instances of stalking and harassment at GP surgeries, nearly triple the 85 seen in 2017/18.

England’s GP postcode lottery:  Some areas have HALF number of doctors as others

England’s GP postcode lottery was laid bare yesterday as official data showed some areas of the country have half as many doctors per patient as others.

Analysis by the Nuffield Trust thinktank revealed family doctors in the parts of the country with lowest access have 70 or more GPs per 100,000 patients, the equivalent of around one doctor per 1,400 patients.

Yet in areas with the poorest coverage, like Portsmouth, Brighton, Hull and Thurrock, there were around just 40 GPs per 100,000 patients, or one for every 2,500. 

Campaigners described the shocking disparities as ‘a serious failing’ by the NHS, which was founded on the ‘principle of equal treatment’. 

GPs admitted ‘the number of patients per GP is rising to unsafe and unmanageable levels’, and blamed the differences on staff shortages and increased demand post-pandemic. 

It comes after tens of millions of GP appointments were cancelled by the NHS during the pandemic so doctors could focus on Covid. 

Many patients are still struggling to see a GP as services fail to bounce back, with less than half of appointments now conducted face-to-face now.

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Incidents of malicious communications — which included letters or emails with threatening content — also increased from 25 in 2017/18 to 92 last year.

Government officials said violence against staff was unacceptable and measures like CCTV, panic buttons, and safety screens for receptionists had been rolled out at GP surgeries to help keep them safe.   

Dr Adam Janjua from Fleetwood, Lancashire, told Radio 4 this morning that family doctors were facing an ‘unprecedented’ level of violence at work.

‘I have been shoved in the chest, I have been threatened to be stabbed “when I least expect it”.’ he said.

‘We’re seeing intimidation, social media abuse, the list is endless.’

He said part of the problem was patient having expectations that are too high.

‘There are less GPs, less staff, more pressures, people are feeling frustrated,’ he said. 

Dr Janjua also said violence behaviour had escalated since May 2021 when a letter from Government ordering GPs to scale back Covid pandemic restrictions and see more patients face-to-face was leaked to the press.   

Professor Martin Marshall, chairman of the Royal College of GPs, said abuse towards staff was ‘entirely unacceptable’.

He urged the Government to urgently deliver its manifesto pledge to increase the number of GPs and practice staff to help ease patient frustrations.

‘This is not the fault of GPs and our teams — the real issue, is a shortage of GPs and other practice staff,’ he said.

Professor Marshall added that more family doctors will consider leaving the profession if they face violence and intimidation, exacerbating the staff shortages.  

Dr Chaand Nagpaul, the British Medical Association’s chairman of council, said the figures on rising violence were ‘alarming’ and urged No10 to be more ‘open and honest with the public’ about GP shortages amid record patient demand. 

Ruth Rankine, director of primary care at the NHS Confederation, said GP surgeries were delivering ‘over 50 per cent more activity than two years ago’, but this could fall if violence drives family doctors away.   

‘This increased activity is being delivered in the face of falling GP numbers, widespread burnout and a wider health and care workforce crisis,’ she said. 

‘Violence and abuse only further demoralises staff and risks making the situation worse with GPs and others considering leaving the profession earlier.’

NHS data between March 2017 and March 2022, the latest available comparable figures, show the number of fully qualified GPs in England has fallen 1,768. 

Salford had the lowest proportion of patients seen in-person with less than half (46 per cent) of appointments made face-to-face. It was followed by Bury (51 per cent), Somerset (53 per cent) and Frimley (53 per cent). Some 79 per cent of appointments in Kirklees were done in person

The NHS data also showed just under half of all GP appointments last month were carried out by fully-qualified doctors, with patients seen by other staff including nurses at the rest of appointments

The GP Worklife survey found more than half of family doctors worked for six sessions a week or less every week in 2021, with each session being four hours and 10 minutes. Nearly a fifth of the workforce saw patients for four sessions or less, while 12.4 per cent worked for five sessions and 27.9 per cent worked for six

NHS data shows there have been nearly 4.5milion booked GP appointments where patients did not turn up since the start of the year, about 40,000 per day

The Government made a manifesto pledge in 2019 for an additional 6,000 GPs by 2024.

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said security measures including CCTV, panic buttons and screens at reception have been rolled out across GP surgeries.

‘Deliberate violence or abuse directed at NHS staff, who continue to work tirelessly to provide care, is unacceptable — all staff, including GPs and their teams, deserve to work in a safe and secure environment,’ they said. 

The data on violence comes as England’s GP postcode lottery was laid bare yesterday as official data showed some areas of the country have half as many doctors per patient as others.

Analysis by the Nuffield Trust thinktank revealed family doctors in the parts of the country with lowest access have 70 or more GPs per 100,000 patients, the equivalent of around one doctor per 1,400 patients.

Yet in areas with the poorest coverage, like Portsmouth, Brighton, Hull and Thurrock, there were around just 40 GPs per 100,000 patients, or one for every 2,500. 

Campaigners described the shocking disparities as ‘a serious failing’ by the NHS, which was founded on the ‘principle of equal treatment’. 

GPs have said ‘the number of patients per GP is rising to unsafe and unmanageable levels’, and blamed the differences on staff shortages and increased demand post-pandemic. 

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