GPs report escalating wave of verbal abuse from patients

    An alarming 85% of family doctors have reported receiving verbal abuse from patients within the last 12 months.

    In a UK-wide survey of more than 2,000 members, conducted by medical defence experts MDDUS, 15% of GPs reporting verbal abuse said they had to resort to involving the police to deal with abusive patient situations over the past year.

    These findings follow the recent arrest of an individual involved in an alleged violent attack at a Sheffield practice, where two GP registrars were assaulted by a patient with a baseball bat.

    GPs identified key triggers, citing ‘lack of access to a face-to-face consultation’ and ‘complaints about their quality of care’ as the factors that most often escalated to verbal abuse.

    Dr John Holden, chief medical officer at MDDUS and a former GP, said: “While we empathise with difficulties patients may encounter in their care, GPs shouldn't bear the brunt of frustrations caused by systemic issues.

    “Our findings show that all too often GPs find themselves on the sharp end of patients’ frustrations about a health service that doesn’t appear to live up to their expectations. Nobody should go to work fearing verbal abuse or physical violence - especially those who dedicate their working lives to caring for others.”

    MDDUS found that GPs are far more likely to be verbally abused by patients than their other colleagues in primary and secondary care, with 70% of dentists and 65% of hospital doctors reporting that they’ve experienced such incidents in the last 12 months.

    On top of this, four out of five of GPs told MDDUS about the detrimental impact of media and political discourse on the NHS and said that this has worsened their efforts to manage patient expectations.

    Dr Holden added: “GPs are often grappling with the dual challenge of a shortage of doctors and the weight of unrealistic patient expectations.

    “It's crucial that policymakers up and down the UK recognise that there is a clear connection between adequate funding and support for primary care services and health professionals, and patient safety.”

    Most GPs said that the extent of verbal abuse directed at them, and their practice staff is increasing, with 58% reporting that things are worse now, during the cost of living crisis, than during the height of the Covid-19 pandemic.

    Dr Holden said: "We know all too well that the Covid-19 pandemic had a catastrophic impact on primary care. However, what many people don’t realise is the extent that the cost of living crisis has compounded matters for both GPs and patients. And the upcoming pressures of winter will further strain an already struggling system.

    “The new NHS Workforce Plan must be implemented with urgency, to make sure that GPs are equipped to meet the increased needs of patients during this period.”


    The opinion pollster Survation questioned 2069 members of the Medical and Dental Defence Union of Scotland (MDDUS), a medical defence organisation that represents health professionals across the UK.

    Of those who responded:

    • 617 were GPs
    • 85% of all UK GPs said that they or their team had experienced verbal abuse from patients in the last 12 months.
    • Of those who had experience verbal abuse, 15% of GPs reporting verbal abuse said they have had to call the police to deal with an abusive patient in the last 12 months.
    • 58% of all UK GPs said that things were ‘worse’ or ‘much worse’ now when asked to compare the extent of abuse from patients during the cost of living crisis to the pandemic.


    For further information please contact Lisa Walker, communications manager, on or 07976 886552.

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