GPs have continued to receive unfair criticism that they have been closed during the pandemic, with one national paper arguing recently that staff were ‘refusing to see their patients in person’ despite the end of lockdown.
Practice staff have also received abusive messages from patients centred around frustrations with access to services, with one surgery finding a note in it’s repeat prescription box telling them to ‘come out of hiding’.
A BMA survey earlier this month found that more than half of GPs have personally experienced verbal abuse in the previous month, while over two thirds have witnessed violence or abuse against colleagues.
But RCGP chair Professor Martin Marshall has defended the efforts of GPs and their teams over the last 18 months, pointing out that over half of all consultations are now in person despite workload and workforce issues.
He has also insisted that abuse of any sort directed at GP practice staff is ‘entirely unacceptable’ and threatens the wellbeing and morale of a profession that is ‘busier than ever’.
Professor Marshall’s comments come as the BMA launched a campaign this week to get the public to support general practice, which is also aiming to explain the pressures practices are under and why face-to-face appointments have been cut back during the pandemic.
An estimated 26.9m appointments were delivered in June this year, not including those for COVID-19 vaccinations – up 13.1% from 23.8m in June 2019, before the pandemic. Of these appointments, 56.3% were delivered face-to-face.
But GP teams have continued to suffer complaints and abuse. Professor Marshall said: ‘It’s a misconception that GPs aren’t seeing patients face-to-face. General practice has been open throughout the pandemic and face-to-face appointments have continued to be offered wherever safe and appropriate.
‘GPs had to switch to largely remote consultations at the start of the pandemic out of necessity for infection control and to protect their patients and themselves from the virus. General practice is now making more patient consultations than before the pandemic, with well over half being face-to-face.
‘We understand patients’ frustrations when they have to wait a long time for an appointment but GPs are currently working under intense workload and workforce pressures. There is a huge shortage of GPs and our workforce is simply not big enough to manage.’
Professor Marshall added that the government needed to come good on its promise of adding 6,000 GPs to the workforce by 2024, as well as delivering on the 26,000 additional practice staff that will be employed through PCNs.
Mental health impact
GPs have also highlighted abuse on social media, with Nottinghamshire GP Dr Shan Hussain arguing attacks against GPs were being normalised. A practice in Gloucestershire also received an abusive message in its repeat prescription box this month, telling staff to ‘come out of hiding’ and give people the service they have ‘apid their taxes for’.
This was in our prescription request box today. How utterly demoralising when we’ve worked so hard. We never closed. We’re not hiding. We have provided unprecedented service to those in need during this pandemic. Unfortunately there is no known cure for ignorance ♀️ pic.twitter.com/VixuqTAyM9
— Alderley Edge GP (@alderleyedgegp) August 3, 2021
Professor Marshall said: ‘It’s entirely unacceptable for anyone working in general practice to be at the receiving end of abuse of any kind, let alone the threat of physical violence.
‘It can have a huge personal impact on the mental health, wellbeing and morale of individual doctors and practice staff at a time when they are busier than ever, providing high-quality care to patients with COVID-19 and conditions unrelated to the virus, in addition to delivering two thirds of all COVID vaccines and preparing for the biggest-ever winter flu vaccination programme.’