A campaign has been launched to help tackle a rise in abusive behaviour towards healthcare workers in primary care across the Humber area.
The initiative is led by Humberside Group of Local Medical Committees Ltd (Humberside LMC) with the support of the Clinical Commissioning Groups in Hull, East Riding of Yorkshire, and Northern Lincolnshire, and a range of partners who are standing together to say that abuse of primary care workers in any role will not be tolerated.
Primary care refers to general practice, community pharmacy, dental, and optometry (eye health) services which are sometimes described to act as the ‘front door’ of the NHS.
Research shows that increased pressures on primary services paired with modified ways of working made necessary due to COVID-19 have led to increased demand in services. Data published by NHS Digital shows a 3.5m increase in the number of general practice appointments provided during June this year compared to June 2019 (26.7m compared to 23.2m), with an additional 4m COVID vaccination appointments delivered on top of that.
Despite this evidence, research carried out with practices in the Humber area in July found that many patients perceive that primary care has been “almost closed” or working at reduced capacity over the past 18 months. Whilst primary care staff are working longer hours, some patients say that they can’t get through to practices to make appointments. This is frustrating for patients and in some cases unfortunately results in abusive behaviour towards practice staff members.
Surveys and consultations with workers in a variety of primary care roles uncovered examples of how abusive patient behaviour had negatively impacted upon staff morale and directly led to decreased patient care due to time spent on handling persistent callers and aggression in practice, on the telephone and online.
Repeat instances of aggression, prejudice, threats and offensive language, has led many professionals to feel dread, fear, disrespected, and questioning whether they wish to remain working in the profession.
Dr Zoe Norris, Humberside LMC Medical Director and local GP said:
“We understand that patients have frustrations and fears around their own health though it doesn’t help anyone if they are abusive. It affects everyone, though it is particularly unfair that frontline workers who are doing their absolute best take the brunt of this. We’re all humans and need to do our bit to be reasonable and kind.”
“Pressures on primary care to meet demands are not new though are made more challenging by the pandemic. This campaign asks everyone to think about how their behaviour can impact others and understand that if you cross the line you can and will be refused treatment.”
Dr Dan Roper, Chair of NHS Hull CCG said:
“I know from conversations with colleagues across the spectrum of primary care that this is an increasing phenomenon. It is a constant source of anxiety for individuals working on the frontline in surgeries and health centres across the city.”
“Being subjected to verbal and (thankfully rarely) physical abuse is extremely traumatic and can cause professionals of any age and experience to question whether they want to continue working.”
“Hull CCG has supported this initiative from the very beginning, and we are confident that the work Humberside LMC is doing will be well received and successful.”
Speaking about the campaign Dr Anne Jeffreys, local GP and East Riding of Yorkshire CCG Chairperson said: “The whole of the NHS is experiencing unprecedented demand, including General Practice. We would like to work with our patients to ensure you get the right care at the right time. The first step in this journey is your GP receptionist and the more information you can provide about your query, given in a calm, polite manner, the sooner we can get you the care and treatment that you need.
“The more our staff enjoy their work and feel valued the more likely they are to stay in the NHS.”
Tackling abuse is the first of a three-phase public awareness campaign around improving experiences for patients and staff. Media created by Hull-based eskimosoup has been developed with the help of primary care workers and features direct quotes taken from surveys and discussions that demonstrate the emotional impact that facing abuse has on workers.
It is hoped that the campaign will encourage patients to consider the impact their attitudes and behaviours have on the health care system and the people working hard to keep it going. The messages will be shared in primary care settings and promoted through targeted online advertising throughout East Yorkshire and Northern Lincolnshire.
More information can be found at www.humbersidelmc.org.uk