GP receptionists describe 'worrying trend' of abuse and threats directed at them from patients

Clare Boland says abuse towards her staff is getting worse Credit: PA / Swansea Bay UHB

Receptionists working at GP surgeries say they are facing an increasing and "worrying trend" of threats and abuse from patients as demand for primary care services remain high.

Nicky Cooper, who has worked as a receptionist at a surgery in Port Talbot for 22 years, says she has seen an increase in abuse directed at her and her colleagues.

She said: "We get sworn at. I think people think we are not doing our best to help them and making the rules up rather than doing what the doctors have asked us to do.

"We do hear the words, ‘I will be down there to sort you out.’

“It’s no way to speak to anyone. You are not going to get what you want by being aggressive and demanding. We are going to do our best for your regardless, we have to. It is difficult because we have to sit there and maintain our composure."

“You do get some who will just walk in without an appointment and hurl threats and abuse in person. We have had to call the police in the past. We don’t hesitate because you just don’t know what people are capable of anymore.

Nicky describes the impact of daily abuse from angry patients, which is having a big impact on her life.

“You go home drained," she said.

"Most of us have families to go home to and you have to try to forget the day and start again and go on to deal with your home life.

“The majority of us have been here for a long time and we have the support of one another, which helps get us through, but, to be quite honest, it makes you wonder why you do it.

"You sometimes wonder why you bother, but if everyone was like that we wouldn’t have a National Health Service, that’s for sure.”

Telephone appointments have been introduced for the safety of patients and staff during the pandemic Credit: PA

The pandemic has seen a change in how GP surgeries operate, with telephone appointments being introduced instead of face to face appointments for the safety of staff and patients.

Patients have shown their frustration at these changes, with receptionists who are often the first point of contact for these services bearing the brunt.

Staff at one surgery have reported having things thrown at them by patients demanding to see a doctor and even being threatened by one who said: "I know where you live."

Credit: PA

Clare Boland, who is the practice manager at Fairfield Surgery in Port Talbot, says the abuse directed at her staff has gotten worse.

"I have been screamed at by a patient, who also called me a Nazi," she said.

“We’ve had people throw things at our receptionists, use foul language, screaming and shouting, throwing furniture and damaging furniture, screaming in their face, making threats.

“A lot of us feel very stressed and maybe less equipped to deal with this kind of abuse.”

Dr Anjula Mehta, Swansea bay University Health Board’s Group Medical Director for Primary Care, has spoken out against the abuse of staff.

She said: “We recognise that demand for healthcare services is at an all-time high and understand it can be frustrating when people experience difficulty accessing their GP practices. But this is not a reason to become abusive to our staff.

“We have a zero tolerance to abuse towards practice staff and the Health Board will support practices in taking necessary action against any person who becomes verbally or physically abusive towards staff.

“GP Practices have a duty of care to their patients and must ensure there is adequate access for all. If you are struggling to get hold of your practice team, please raise this with the Practice Manager.

"There are huge pressures across healthcare currently, please be kind to our staff, they are trying their best to help you.”