Doctors’ leaders speak out about GP practice staff ‘abuse’ in North Yorkshire and York

Doctors’ leaders in North Yorkshire and York say experienced frontline GP practice staff are being driven out of their jobs because of high levels of verbal abuse from some patients.

Surgeries are continuing to experience a surge in demand for appointments and while the vast majority of patients are sympathetic to the pressures practices are under and are respectful and kind when they ring up, an aggressive minority is “making the working lives of reception and admin teams a misery”.

Experienced and highly skilled reception staff from a number of practices in North Yorkshire have resigned in recent months, saying they could no longer put up with the levels of verbal abuse and hostility they were being subjected to.

YorLMC – the professional voice for NHS GPs and practice teams across North Yorkshire and City of York – together with NHS North Yorkshire and Vale of York Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs), say “a little courtesy and kindness goes a long way” and are calling for the abuse to stop.

Dr Brian McGregor, YorLMC’s Medical Secretary, said: “Practice reception teams are very often the first people who can help a patient find the help or care they need. They are highly skilled and are integral to patient care and the smooth running of our practices.

“Most patients recognise the brilliant job they do, but regrettably, there are some who think it’s acceptable to shout, swear, belittle and threaten them and other staff. The cumulative impact of these instances of aggression, prejudice, threats and offensive language, is leading to some highly valued members of staff choosing to walk away from a job they’ve loved, while others say they now dread coming into work.

“The NHS is very clear – there is no place for this sort of aggressive behaviour and it has a zero tolerance approach to abuse. If a person is violent, abusive or threatening to their GP or any general practice staff, they could be permanently removed from the surgery.”

NHS North Yorkshire CCG clinical chair, Dr Charles Parker, added: “We understand it’s a difficult time for patients. Surgery phone lines are busy, a lot of people want appointments and a lot of people have worries about their health they have been putting off, but now want dealing with quickly.

“However, it is not an excuse to shout, swear or threaten the people who are trying their hardest to help. Some of the abuse our practice teams have been receiving is verging on the criminal and has reduced even the most resilient and experienced members of staff to tears.”

NHS Vale of York CCG clinical chair, Dr Nigel Wells went on: “NHS and care services across the board remain extremely busy and with many COVID measures still in place in our surgeries to protect patients and staff, practices are continuing to offer a blended mix of in-person, telephone and online appointments to help manage demand and ensure as many patients as possible can be helped.

“It is a particularly hard time for reception and admin teams who often bear the brunt of patient frustration and – outside of primary care circles – are probably not as appreciated as they ought to be.

“We’re still living with COVID pressures, yet it feels a world away from where we were at the start of the pandemic when our patients would stand on their doorsteps, clapping and bashing pots and pans in appreciation of the NHS and healthcare workers.

“Back then, this act of collective empathy boosted staff morale enormously. We are not asking people to repeat the gesture now. All we ask is that patients are courteous and respectful to our teams who are trying their best to help.”

In today’s modern GP practice, with a range of different healthcare professionals now available, patients who contact their surgery may be asked by a member of the reception team for more details of their health complaint or condition.

This extra information means the receptionist – or care navigator – can guide the patient to the right advice or fix up an appointment with the health professional that is most appropriate to meet their clinical needs, which may not always be a GP or nurse.

They are highly skilled at handling personal, sensitive, and confidential patient data and information and are a vital component of a modern GP practice’s workforce.