The British Medical Association (BMA) are urging the public to be kind after a survey has revealed worrying levels of abuse against doctors and colleagues.

They survey of more than 2,400 doctors in England, Wales and Northern Ireland found that more than a third of doctors (37%) have faced first-hand abuse from patients, or those close to them, in recent months.

For GPs, the number was higher, with half reporting verbal abuse in the past month. A further one in five GPs also reported being threatened.

Equally as worrying was that half of respondents (51%) had witnessed violence or abuse against other staff, which rose to 67% for doctors working in general practice.

A shocking amount of abuse was also directed at nurses and receptionists. Hospital doctors were most likely to report abuse of nurses (87%) compared to other doctors (65%), and in general practice, 96% of those who had seen colleagues face abuse said this was directed at reception staff.

Other key findings include:

  • Two-thirds of GPs (67%) said their experience of abuse, threatening behaviour or violence had got worse in the last year;
  • The most common place for abuse experienced by GPs was in their consulting rooms (53%), while hospital doctors said it was on wards (49%);
  • While respondents reported a number of factors they felt were behind the incidents, 64% (75% GP, 54% hospital) said the perpetrator was dissatisfied with the service or access.

“Abusive behaviour will drive more and more talented and experienced doctors away from the NHS at a time when we need them most”

In response to the survey, Dr Richard Vautrey, BMA GP committee chair, described the findings as showing an “incredibly worrying trend” and said an urgent conversation is needed about the “precarious state of the NHS”.

Dr Vishal Sharma, BMA consultants committee chair, added: “Doctors may pride themselves on being resilient, but that doesn’t mean they should have to put up with being abused, threatened or – in a small number of cases – physically attacked by the very people they are trying to help.

“We understand that when people interact with the health service, they are often in pain and distressed – with the Covid-19 pandemic increasing feelings of apprehension due to services working in different ways, or some treatments being delayed.

“However, we cannot let people take out their frustration at a system on individual doctors or their colleagues who truly are doing their best in the most difficult of situations. Even before the pandemic we were vastly understaffed, and abusive behaviour will drive more and more talented and experienced doctors away from the NHS at a time when we need them most.

“When these appalling incidents do happen, action of course must be taken against perpetrators. But furthermore, we urge our patients to afford the same compassion to staff that they are shown in hospital, after what has been the most horrific year of our careers.”