Third of doctors suffer abuse during pandemic

A further 7 per cent of doctors’ face abuse outside a healthcare setting

Over a third (34%) of already under pressure doctors have further suffered verbal or physical abuse from patients, patients’ relatives and members of the public — including being assaulted and having food thrown at them by teenagers — during the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, 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 — the world’s leading protection organisation for healthcare professionals, supporting over 21,000 in Ireland — 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, which ran from September 17-30 receiving 361 responses from doctors in Ireland, two in five doctors respond 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 one in three 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, he added. In the survey two in five doctors in Ireland report 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,” Dr Bradshaw said.

“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.”

Healthcare workers in both public and private healthcare settings, must be properly supported, Dr Bradshaw urged.

One healthcare professional who participated in the MPS survey commented: “I’ve been assaulted a number of times in the Covid-19 emergency department.”

Other comments were “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”; and “The cumulative daily toll of being at the receiving end of anger is demoralising and upsetting, when everyone is just trying to do their best in very difficult times”.

Another medical practitioner said: “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.”

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

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