Threats to kill, reception staff in tears and doctors' cars smashed up - shocking level of abuse towards Leeds GPs revealed

GPs in Leeds have called for more protection from the public as they reveal the extent of daily abuse from disgruntled patients.

By Emma Ryan
Monday, 7th February 2022, 4:45 am

It is an issue that has been made worse by COVID, say GPs across the city, and is in danger of driving away doctors and support staff from what is already a profession under pressure.

They want more government funding to make their own practices secure, money to recruit more doctors and for education programmes to inform the public about the consequences of verbal and physical aggressiveness towards staff.

It follows a catalogue of incidents revealed to the Yorkshire Evening Post that have happened in Leeds and include threats to kill a doctor, his car and his GP partner's car being smashed up, doors to the practice being smashed, cars being deliberately damaged whilst in the car park and receptionists in tears on a daily basis because of abuse over the phone and the counter.

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Dr Amal Paul is a partner GP at Roundhay Road surgery in Harehills and said abuse of GPs and staff is a big issue being discussed within the Leeds Clinical Commissioning Group.

Dr Amal Paul is a partner GP at Roundhay Road surgery in Harehills and said abuse of GPs and staff is a big issue being discussed within the Leeds Clinical Commissioning Group.

He said: "It is sometimes threatening by telephone calls, sometimes physical and they come to the practice and threaten. The receptionists are the main target and GPs as well - in our case we have really bad experiences. They take it as part of the job and that is not right.

"One one occasion our front door was smashed in by an angry patient. He kicked and smashed the door. We had to tell the police but nothing was done.

"The second one was an angry patient demanding medication that was undue. He threatened to kill me and my GP partner Dr Ling, the practice staff were really frightened. I managed to cool him down but the following morning he rang again and abused the staff, I took the call, he threatened to kill me (said) he knew my car and Dr Ling’s and was going to smash them - and he did. He smashed my car and Dr Ling’s.

Incidents have increased since the start of the COVID pandemic, says Dr Richard Vautrey, who added that the public had moved from clapping for the NHS to criticising it.

"He has mental health problems but at the time he was quite capable to make that decision. The worst thing was we reported it to the police and nothing has been done. It is serious and frustrating.”

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In trying to resolve the issue, Dr Paul said, the obvious solutions were not the right ones and that there were “multi-factorial” issues the government should be addressing, as well as responding to calls for safer premises. At Roundhay Road he says, “anybody can get in”.

He said: “It is difficult to record every time, every day we receive hundreds or thousands of calls. It can be done (recording calls) but there is trust between us and patients. If you say the call is recorded there is a barrier and the patient won’t be as open to discuss what they want. Confidentiality is a doctor’s pillar of trust.

“You can take them (patients) off the list but that is not the right solution. The right solution is government funded education for the public.”

He elaborated by saying reports in some media that GPs were not carrying out face to face appointments, when they are, didn’t help public perceptions and neither do government messages about attending GPs for every concern.

The way practices are funded should be reviewed, he added, as the needs for a patient demographic in deprived areas like Harehills will differ from affluent areas.

“Patients are stressed and anxious, the usual way to deal with day to day illness has gone through the window. Everything now is GP", he said. "If you go to north Leeds the patient has 10 minutes consultation time - they can speak English and know the problem. In our practice you can’t do that in ten minutes, it takes 20 minutes but the funding is the same.

“It is a multi-factorial issue. When people are suffering (from issues around poverty and inequality) they have mental and physical health problems and when they are not well they become aggressive. But it is not just our practice in isolation - all practices are having abuse issues around patients.”

At Meanwood Group Practice, reception staff have been left in tears after abusive encounters with patients and cars in the surgery car park damaged.

Incidents have increased since the start of the COVID pandemic, says Dr Richard Vautrey, who added that the public had moved from clapping for the NHS to criticising it.

Asking patients to wear face masks inside medical buildings was a source of conflict as were waiting times for phones to be answered and patients not being able to get the appointments at a time they want with the person they want.

“It has increased", he said. "We went through a period at the beginning where people were applauding the NHS and recognising the significant and unique situation we were in. Unfortunately that has changed to criticism all too often.

“I understand their frustration at the moment. They have been through a difficult two years. We have seen the consequences of that - increase in waiting times for appointments and procedures.

“We went into the pandemic with too few GPs, clinicians and hospital staff and we still have the same situation.”

Analysis of data by the British Medical Association (BMA) reveals that, as of November 2021 (latest data), there is now the equivalent of 1,756 fewer fully qualified full-time GPs compared to 2015.

It also shows that appointment bookings reached record highs over the winter of 2021. The December 2021 total of 29.1m appointments was 4.9m (20 per cent) more than the levels of December 2019.

Dr Vautrey, also assistant secretary of Leeds Local Medical Committee and clinical director for the North Leeds Primary Care Network, like Dr Paul, fears that unless there is more from the government in terms of funding and recruitment (it has revealed it is not set to achieve its target of recruiting 6,000 GPs by 2025), practices will never get on top of increasing work-loads.

He also warned of a vicious cycle should staff be forced out of the profession due to abuse, as that would only increase pressures.

“I have seen reception staff in tears and we are fortunate that most practices have supportive teams but there is only so much you can take on a day to day basis. I have seen increases where staff have been physically threatened as well as verbally, cars damaged in the car park. It leaves people feeling quite frightened.”

Unless an incident of abuse is so serious it is reported to the police, there is currently no way of recording the actual numbers and actions against it can range from warning letters to striking patients off practice lists, which is a last resort.

Dr Vautrey added: “There is no specific formula, we can’t record everything but you get a sense from practices that this is a widening problem. We need to work together, as NHS and the public to get through this - and we can only do this together.”

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