GP surgery reception staff leave due to torrent of abuse from patients

A GP surgery is closing its front desk for two hours a day to give “frightened, disillusioned” staff a break from facing the public after receiving a torrent of abuse from patients.

Conisbrough Group Practice is an 11,800-patient facility covering Conisbrough, Denaby, Warmsworth and parts of Mexborough and Edlington, which in November last year delivered nearly 50 per cent more appointments per patient than the city’s average, according to NHS data.

Dr Coleman, also one of the clinical directors of Doncaster South Primary Care Network, said: “We positively welcome constructive criticism, we want to improve further — but abuse is not tolerated.

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“Not a day goes by without a member of staff reduced to tears.

“‘If I die, it’ll be your fault,’ is a daily refrain.

“Staff have been called Nazis, likened to the Gestapo, mocked, belittled, called stupid and been subjected to the full spectrum of expletives.”

In the last three years, the practice has lost seven staff, with abusive patient behaviour cited as the major reason.

“Our ideal team is around seven-strong, said Dr Coleman, “so that’s essentially turnover of an entire department and a huge loss of experience and expertise.

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“It’s not just at work — one of our reception team was stopped in the village and told if she wasn’t so lazy and answered the phone more quickly, people wouldn’t abuse her.

“It makes staff feel sick, frightened, disillusioned.

“Some commenters suggested if they leave because of abuse, they aren’t cut out for the job in the first place, but I strongly reject that.

“Resilience is important, but everyone has a limit.

“There is more to the role than merely manning the desk and answering phones, with administrative tasks including liaising with countless other services, organising rotas, processing prescriptions — the list goes on.”

Dr Coleman said the pandemic, combined with increasing pressures on the system, had “undoubtedly” contributed to the situation.  

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“This seems to be a justification for the abuse (for some people): ‘Public services don’t work like they used to so I’ll take it out on the visible element’,” he said.

“I totally get people’s frustrations with the declining state of the NHS.

“We are all too aware of how perilous its current condition is.

“But I sense some people don’t want to accept how bad it is — it’s easier to say: ‘It’s fake news, project fear, media lies’.”

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Dr Coleman said the new measures had been supported by most patients, with many asking after the receptionists’ welfare.

“Sadly, we’ve had one further departure, but that was a result of the persistent relentless nature of the abuse they experienced daily,” said Dr Coleman.

He pointed out the surgery remained open during the reception closure and could be reached by telephone or online.

Anthony Fitzgerald, NHS South Yorkshire’s executive place director for the Integrated Care Board in Doncaster, said the protection and morale of staff was a priority.

“It’s sad to hear of such incidents when staff are trying to assist patients in a professional and caring manner while under increasing pressure and workloads,” he said.