RCGP Scotland asks the public for their support in standing against abuse towards GPs and their teams.

Publication date: 11 November 2021

On World Kindness Day, (November 13) RCGP Scotland is asking the public for their support in standing against abuse towards GPs and their teams.

The plea from the College - which represents a network of around 5,000 GPs in Scotland - comes after a BMA Scotland survey revealed worrying levels of attacks against those working on the frontline of general practice.

The survey, which focused on GP demand and workload pressures, found that 88% of practices responding reported that a member of staff had been subjected to verbal or physical abuse in the last month.

Today Joint Chairs of RCGP Scotland have expressed concerns about the welfare of practice teams, who have sustained a barrage of unfair criticism and abuse in recent months.

RCGP Scotland's Joint Chair Dr Chris Williams said: "We are hugely concerned by what seems to be an escalating level of abuse towards members of our staff, particularly those working in reception. These are team members who are highly-trained and are working hard to help connect patients with the most appropriate person to deal with their concerns.

"Any form of abuse, whether that be verbal or physical, is unacceptable and can have a hugely detrimental effect on a person's wellbeing. We know from our members that many of those working on the frontline of general practice have been left feeling undervalued and underappreciated by some of the harsh abuse that has been directed towards our teams.

"A recent survey of our members showed that 38% of those who responded are unlikely to be working in the profession in the next five years. This is deeply worrying as we simply cannot afford to lose any more GPs from the frontline of the health service. No-one should have to face abuse as part of their job, especially those who are working exceptionally hard to help provide care to patients. GPs and their teams are now reaching breaking point. This is an issue that we cannot possibly ignore."

Practice teams include clinicians, administrative staff and managers - all of whom play a huge role in allowing GPs to deal with a huge variety of complex work and enquiries, including triaging patients to ensure that they receive the most appropriate care for their needs.

RCGP Scotland's Deputy Chair (Policy), Dr Catriona Morton, said there must be improved national public messaging on the developments of roles in general practice to ensure that patients understand the changes being made.

She explained how the role of those advising about healthcare is constantly adapting to best meet patient need.

"Quite often the public will see receptionists as people who simply make appointments," Dr Morton, a practising GP at Craigmillar Practice in Edinburgh, said. "People may not be fully aware that our teams will have had extensive NHS training on triage and signposting to appropriate services. They also work to provide the GP or nurse with correct and up-to-date information to help them make decisions about the best form of care for each patient.

"The public may feel that reception staff are creating a barrier to getting appointments with their GPs, when they are actually working hard to make sure that patients are navigated to the right person the first-time round. We understand that some patients may be unsure about divulging private information to any other practice team member apart from their GP, however we would like to assure patients that all information disclosed to a member of the practice team during the triage process, is treated as entirely confidential and private.

"We appreciate that this is a frustrating and challenging time for many of our patients, however any form of abuse is unacceptable, and we hope that members of the public will get behind us and show patience and understanding towards our GP practice teams.

"On a more positive note, we are pleased that the Scottish Government has listened to our concerns on the need for robust public messaging to help patients understand the crucial role that our hardworking staff play and hope that this begins to reduce the levels of abuse and hostility that our practice teams are enduring. We also know that many patients appreciate the new ways of working and are hugely supportive of their local surgeries.

"General practice has always been one of the most trusted professions, and we would like to remind our patients that we are people too. After such a difficult twenty months of dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic, we all have a shared responsibility to treat one another with kindness."

Further Information

(For Media only)

Media requests to Lisa Boyle, Communications Officer.
Tel: 07388 388 260, lisa.boyle@rcgp.org.uk

Notes to editor

  1. RCGP Scotland represents a network of around 5,000 doctors in Scotland aiming to improve care for patients. We work to encourage and maintain the highest standard of general medical practice and act as the voice of GPs on resources, education, training, research and clinical standards.
  2. A recent survey of our members showed that 38% of those who responded are unlikely to be working in the profession in the next five years - Intention to leave the profession statistic from RCGP annual tracking survey of GP attitudes and experiences. 235 responses from GPs working in Scotland. In field from 6 March - 5 April, 2021.

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