By David Spereall, local democracy reporter
“Extreme” abuse being aimed at GPs and frontline healthcare staff has been condemned, as patients in parts of Leeds struggle to access appointments.
Senior councillor Fiona Venner (Lab, Kirkstall) said it was important the public understood that doctors are working harder than ever before, while she acknowledged it was an “awful situation” for sick patients who can’t get the care they need.
The issue was raised at a local health scrutiny committee on Tuesday, following an incident at Harehills Corner Medical Practice last month, where a chair was allegedly thrown through a window.
City health bosses admitted that patient experience across the city was “varied”, but they hope that upcoming national changes to the GP contract will improve access and outcomes.
Councillor Venner, who is Leeds City Council’s executive member for health partnerships, told the meeting: “We’ve seen an absolutely massive increase in demand across the health system and the workforce is really, really tired.
“Some of the (feedback) that’s come from Healthwatch and through other consultations from people who are using health services – I felt really protective about how that’s relayed back to staff in primary care.
“Because we know GPs are facing verbal abuse and threats. My best friend’s a GP and they’ve had damage to their building. They’ve had police visit at their surgeries because of death threats.
“Some of what they’re facing is extreme because of a perception out there that they’re not working hard enough, because people are struggling to access primary care.”
Councillor Venner said frontline surgery staff and receptionists were often bearing the worst of the abuse as they handle the brunt of patient frustration.
Figures revealed by the West Yorkshire Integrated Care Board (ICB) show that more than 70,000 GP appointments are booked every day across Leeds.
At the moment, around 43 per cent take place on the same day they’re booked. 71 per cent are carried out face-to-face, with the rest either conducted remotely, or via a home visit.
But problems remain for patients across the city in trying to be seen quickly, as the NHS tries to tackle a post-pandemic backlog with ailing numbers of staff.
The committee chair, Councillor Abigail Marshall-Katung, said she was “sad to hear” of the situation facing doctors.
She said: “Obviously everyone wants to be safe where they work. Why would GPs want to come to work to be abused? Then it’s a ripple effect (on the system).
“Obviously people are disgruntled, but no-one has the right to abuse anyone, let alone their doctors.
Addressing local NHS leaders directly, she asked: “Is there anything in place to safeguard our doctors from that abuse.”
Gaynor Connor, director of primary care in Leeds at the West Yorkshire ICB, said “zero tolerance” campaigns were being run to raise awareness.
She said these highlighted how the NHS was weakened further if abused GPs walk away from a practice, or the profession as a whole.
She told the meeting: “There is provision within the process if a patient becomes abusive.
“The ultimate sanction would be removing that patient from the registered list. They would then be offered services via a safe haven.
“But we’d work with all parties to try to avoid that worst case scenario.”
As soon as people become abusive towards the staff the conversation should stop immediately, and that person not offered any assistance. Its the same in A&E departments, abusive members of the public should be declined treatment. If people cannot act in a decent and repectful manner towards others then there should be consequences. Staff leaving or going off with stress is hardly going to help the system as a whole is it?