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One-in-three doctors have suffered verbal or physical abuse during Covid-19

Over a third (34 per cent) of doctors say they have suffered verbal or physical abuse from patients, or patients’ relatives during Covid-19, according to a survey by the Medical Protection Society (MPS).

The MPS survey of doctors in Ireland, also showed that a further 7 per cent have experienced verbal or physical abuse from a member of the public outside of a medical setting, with some saying they have been shouted at in the street.

MPS described the survey results as “deplorable”, and said the abuse presents yet another source of anxiety for doctors at the worst possible time. In the same MPS survey, 2 in 5 doctors say their mental wellbeing is worse compared to the start of the pandemic.

Dr Pallavi Bradshaw, Medicolegal Lead, Risk Prevention at MPS, said: “These survey results make for difficult reading. While this is an unsettling and extremely stressful time for the public, it is sad and deplorable to think that 1 in 3 doctors who go to work every day in the most challenging circumstances, putting patients first, face abuse in and outside of their workplace.

“One doctor told us they receive abuse almost daily in local shops. One said they have had food thrown at them by teenagers, and another said they have been shouted at on the street several times.

“This presents yet another source of anxiety for doctors at a time when many have expressed grave concerns about their mental wellbeing. In our survey 2 in 5 doctors in Ireland say their mental wellbeing is worse compared to the start of the pandemic.

“For most, Covid-19 will be the biggest health crisis in their careers. Without support to address an array of mental wellbeing concerns – including those caused by verbal and physical abuse – doctors are at risk of becoming disillusioned or will suffer in silence with psychological injuries – both of which put the safety of themselves and their patients at risk.

“The need for mental wellbeing support is all the more important and urgent given the surge in the number of healthcare workers that are off work due to Covid-19 related issues. Those working in both HSE and private healthcare settings, must be properly supported.” 

  • Here are some of the anonymous comments from healthcare professionals participating in the MPS survey:

“I’ve been assaulted a number of times in the Covid-19 emergency department.”

“Patients are demanding to be seen. Some refusing to wear masks or social distance, and pushing past staff.”

“I experienced aggression from relatives of a cancer patient whose cancer surgery has been cancelled for the second time due to Covid-19 related bed shortages.”

“People keep a bigger distance than necessary when they hear that we are healthcare professionals, because they fear that we may be carriers. This is understandable, but it is very isolating, it certainly deepens our loneliness.”

“I get food/snack items thrown at me, usually by teenagers.”

“I have been shouted at on the street several times.”

“Local people have been calling to my home and banging on my door, as they are too afraid to go to the clinic.”

“I have been subject to low grade forms of verbal abuse on a daily basis since the pandemic began. People do not seem to give the doctor any credit whatsoever for now having to work at a much slower pace because of PPE and all of the extra precautions required to do our job.”

“Daily complaints have become par for the course. I have been told directly that access to care is currently ‘a disgrace’, waiting times for clinics and emergency care are ‘a disgrace’, families not being allowed to visit is ‘a disgrace’.”

“I have broken the news about the death of a loved one and been at the receiving end of anger. I completely understand, but the cumulative daily toll of being at the receiving end of this anger is demoralising and upsetting, when everyone is just trying to do their best in very difficult times.”

“I have received derogatory comments regarding doctors and nurses ‘not seeing patients’ and the decision to do a remote consultation as first line. The public feel it is ok to be disrespectful about this once they realise you are a doctor.”

“I receive abuse almost daily in the local shops.”

The survey was conducted by MPS. It ran from 17 September – 30 September and achieved 361 responses from doctors in Ireland.

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