Third of doctors verbally or physically abused during the pandemic 

ireland
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By Maresa Fagan

Over a third of doctors were verbally or physically abused by patients or patients’ relatives during the Covid-19 pandemic, a new survey of Irish doctors has found.

The Medical Protection Society (MPS) survey, conducted in September, found that 34 per cent of 361 doctors reported being verbally or physically abused since the pandemic took hold.

It also found that a further seven per cent had experienced verbal or physical abuse from a member of the public outside of a medical setting, with some doctors reporting that they had been shouted at in the street.

One doctor said in some cases patients or their relatives were demanding treatment or were turning up at the medics home because they were afraid to attend their clinic.

The survey found that doctors on the frontline were being abused for treatment or procedures being delayed or cancelled because of the pandemic and the fact that they were operating at reduced capacity and at a slower rate than normal.

Incidents

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Some medics reported being assaulted while working in the Covid-19 emergency department while others had food thrown at them or were verbally abused on the street.

“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’,” one doctor told the survey.

“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,” another doctor said.

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

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

One doctor said it was “demoralising and upsetting” to be subjected to abuse and anger “when everyone is just trying to do their best in very difficult times”.

“The public feels it is ok to be disrespectful about this once they realise you are a doctor,” another doctor said.

MPS, which supports over 21,000 medical professionals in Ireland, described the survey results as “deplorable” and called for greater mental health supports for doctors during the pandemic.

The abuse, Dr Pallavi Bradshaw, MPS Medicolegal Lead said, presented “yet another source of anxiety” for doctors, whose mental health was also impacted by the pandemic and the challenges it brought.

Of the doctors surveyed, 40 per cent said their mental wellbeing had worsened compared to the start of the pandemic.

“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,” Dr Bradshaw said.

For most doctors Covid-19 will be the “biggest health crisis” in their careers, she said, adding they were at risk of becoming disillusioned. She said there was a need for mental wellbeing supports.

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