The BMA has written to the Health and Social Care Secretary Sajid Javid urging him to step in and tackle the wave of growing abuse against GPs and calling for a change in legislation to increase the maximum sentence for assault against emergency workers from 12 months’ to 2 years’ imprisonment.
The Association says the Government must also publicly support the profession by condemning “the onslaught of abuse and media scapegoating of GPs and their staff”.
The letter1 from BMA council chair Dr Chaand Nagpaul comes after four members of staff were injured in an attack at a surgery in Manchester and amid sustained anti-GP campaigns in sections of the media.
Dr Nagpaul highlights survey findings2 from the BMA, in which half of the GPs who responded said they had personally experienced verbal abuse in the most recent month, with two-thirds saying they had witnessed abuse directed at staff. Another two-thirds said that their experience of abuse had become worse over the last year.
Dr Nagpaul writes:
“This is wholly unacceptable, particularly given the tireless work of general practice staff who have served the nation assiduously and loyally over the past 18 months of the pandemic. GPs and their teams led the COVID vaccination programme - the most successful in the history of the NHS - which has delivered 90 million vaccines, saving tens of thousands of lives. General practice is also managing large numbers of vaccination queries and issues relating to the backlog in secondary care which further adds to pressure on day-to-day access.”
The narrative that practices are not offering face-to-face appointments is “as dangerous, as it is inaccurate”, Dr Nagpaul says.
“The reality, as you must know, is that with the constraints of the size of GP practice premises, there are limits on how many people can safely be present in a waiting room while adhering to appropriate infection control measures. GP practices, in the same way as hospitals, are using telephone, video and online consultations to assess patients (in accordance with NHS England guidance) and provide them with physical face-to-face consultations when this is needed. Many practice premises are too small and poorly ventilated, and with high circulating levels of Covid, we have a duty to protect our older and clinically vulnerable patients from becoming infected when they attend their GP surgery.”
Daily Covid cases are almost 10 times higher than they were at this time last year, while the number of patients in hospital is more than six times higher and the number on ventilators almost eight times higher.
“While it may suit some sections of the media to portray appointments as being reduced, the fact is that GPs are seeing more patients than ever, working longer hours than ever. The NHS’ GP appointments data shows there were nearly one million more appointments in July 2021 than pre-pandemic levels (July 2019). Whilst GPs are being vilified for offering telephone consultations, they are doing so purely for the safety of their patients and which in fact our survey shows is more exhausting for GPs and result in longer days. It is soul destroying for GPs and their staff to hear the narrative that they are ‘closed’.”
The BMA is inviting the Secretary of State to urgently meet with BMA GP committee representatives to discuss the unsustainable pressures in general practice and what support the Government should be offering to ensure patients get the care they need, as well as a separate emergency summit with the Association to discuss the unacceptable level of abuse being levelled against GPs and what further steps – including legislation – must be taken to keep staff safe.
As well as the increased sentence for assault of emergency workers, the BMA wants to see verbal abuse against emergency workers carrying a heavier punishment, even when the threat of physical violence is not present.
Dr Nagpaul also emphasises the immense efforts of GP teams in leading the Covid vaccination campaign, and the huge undertaking that the booster programme will be for general practice this winter, as staff deliver this alongside the annual flu jab campaign.
“Given the magnitude of delivering millions of vaccines over the coming months, together with increased patient demand during the winter, it is vital that the public are made fully aware of just how much strain practices are under and how the service may have to change in order to manage what is in effect an unmanageable workload. We are not ‘back to completely normal’ and it is wholly unrealistic to suggest that practices can, under current conditions, return to pre-pandemic ways of working.
“Rather than endorsing a media narrative which scapegoats GPs, show them your support for their dedication. Without this support more and more GPs will leave the service, making the manifesto pledge of 6,000 additional GPs inadequate, even if were achievable.”
Notes to editors
The BMA is a professional association and trade union representing and negotiating on behalf of all doctors in the UK. A leading voice advocating for outstanding health care and a healthy population. An association providing members with excellent individual services and support throughout their lives.