One-third of doctors abused during pandemic

Abuse occurs in and outside of workplace
  • Deborah Condon

At least one-third of doctors in Ireland have been verbally or physically abused by patients or patients' relatives during the COVID-19 pandemic, a new survey has found.

According to the findings, 34% of doctors said they have experienced verbal or physical abuse, while around 40% said their mental wellbeing is worse now compared to the start of the pandemic.

The survey was carried out by the Medical Protection Society, which protects and supports the professional interests of doctors worldwide, including thousands of doctors in Ireland. It described the findings as "deplorable".

"These 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," explained Dr Pallavi Bradshaw, medicolegal lead of risk prevention at the MPS.

Comments by doctors who took part in the survey included:
-"Patients are demanding to be seen. Some refusing to wear masks or social distance, and pushing past staff"
-"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 get food/snack items thrown at me, usually by teenagers"
-"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".

Dr Bradshaw noted that for most doctors, COVID-19 will be "the biggest health crisis in their careers". However without adequate mental health support, the consequences could be devastating.

"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," Dr Bradshaw added.

The survey was carried out by the MPS from September 17-30 and involved 361 doctors in Ireland.


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