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New guide to help manage escalating patient aggression


Matt Woodley


8/09/2021 3:53:56 PM

The COVID-19 vaccine rollout has coincided with reports of increasingly hostile and violent patient behaviour.

Cover of guide
The new RACGP resource contains templates for general practices to use or amend.

The RACGP has produced a brief guide to help GPs and practice staff manage belligerent patients, following reports of aggression and violence that have become increasingly common during the COVID-19 vaccine rollout.
 
From people demanding their preferred vaccine to patients threatening to burn clinics down after not being able to secure an appointment, the confusion and uncertainty has exposed general practices to frustrated patients seeking answers and support.
 
And according to a recently published op-ed in The Guardian by a general practice receptionist, the situation has deteriorated in the wake of certain industries mandating compulsory vaccinations.
 
‘The phone calls and abuse has increased tenfold as people are panicking about losing their jobs,’ the medical receptionist wrote.
 
‘Once a patient called and demanded to be booked in within three days for Pfizer, screaming at me when I explained this would not be possible … I pictured his red face as he was yelling and wondered what his blood pressure would be like, but I was also extremely grateful that I didn’t work for someone like him.’
 
The heightened demand caused by the rollout is also placing strain on other aspects of running a practice.
 
‘We are taking too long to return emails, send faxes or contact patients regarding their appointments. The doctors are trying their best not to put too much pressure on us, but things are definitely falling by the wayside,’ the op-ed states.
 
‘Thankfully my manager had made the decision to move all vaccination bookings to online only. While this has eased the burden, it has not stopped the abuse.
 
‘Unfortunately, this is the new normal.’
 
Aside from tension caused by the vaccine rollout, RACGP Vice-President Dr Bruce Willett previously told newsGP unemployment, a growing drug problem, and societal change resulting from COVID-19 are also contributing to the growing instances of patient aggression.
 
‘This sort of behaviour is never acceptable under any circumstance,’ he said.
 
‘It is a problem in the whole health sector. Emergency services and hospitals have similar problems, but general practice is not exempt.
 
‘Areas with more financial stress and problems with drugs are disproportionally affected. It is a nationwide problem, but rural areas are harder hit.’
 
The RACGP guide recommends that all practices have an agreed policy in place regarding the management of patient aggression and violence, which details both immediate and follow-up responses.
 
It also contains templates that practices can use or amend when issuing warning letters, placing patients on acceptable behaviour agreements, or discontinuing care for patients.
 
Other issues covered by the guide include:
 

  • How can a practice team respond to an act, or threat, of aggression or violence?
  • Can our practice discontinue care when safety concerns exist?
  • Can our practice disclose an act, or threat, of violence by a patient?
  • How can we create a safe practice environment and team?
 
Preventing and managing patient violence and aggression is available on the RACGP website.
 
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