Abusive behaviour fuels high turnover of GP receptionists

NHS England has told GP practices that reception desks must now be open to patients.

Increased levels of abusive and unpleasant behaviour is thought to be causing an unusually high turnover among Norfolk's GP reception staff. - Credit: PA

An increase in abusive behaviour towards staff at Norfolk surgeries has been driven by growing expectations among patients for “an Amazon-style delivery service”, a leading GP has said. 

The hike in unpleasant behaviours in surgeries across Norfolk and Waveney is thought to be driving an unusually high turnover of GP receptionists. 

And Beccles GP Dr Tim Morton, who chairs the region’s Local Medical Committee, said the rise in rudeness has “been fuelled by a combination of frustrations with waits for treatment, both in hospital and in primary care”.

The increase was noted by Norfolk’s Clinical Commissioning Group at a Tuesday committee meeting, at which associate director of primary care Sadie Parker said it was “definitely an ongoing problem for many of our practices”.

She added that the CCG’s communications team is leading a campaign to reduce abusive behaviour in GP surgeries, and they had received support from Norfolk County Council’s health overview and scrutiny committee. 

The concern is nationwide and has led NHS England to update its guidance on managing inappropriate behaviour.

“All of that is designed to try and moderate poor behaviour and give people a chance where it’s appropriate to do so, to remain with the practice, before the relationship breaks down and they end up being removed from the registered list…” she said.

Dr Morton said the national increase in abuse was “totally unacceptable under any circumstance”. 

Dr Tim Morton of Beccles Medical centre Byline: Sonya Duncan

Dr Tim Morton, chairman of the Local Medical Committee - Credit: Sonya Duncan

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“I think in those practices which are bearing increased levels of this, it’s not surprising that reception staff will seek other employment.”

He said that in addition to frustrations over waiting times, “we have generated a society which is expecting an Amazon-style delivery service for their every issue and has become impatient.”

An increase had been seen even before the pandemic, he said.

“The number of times I’ve had to write a zero-tolerance letter to patients has certainly increased over the last few years. I think it’s important that those of us in positions of authority stick up for our staff.”

He added: “I would suggest that we do need to take stock of how we utilise our health services.

“Because there is a limited capacity and a huge demand for people’s wants rather than clinical needs.

“I think the danger is that we miss those most in clinical need by pandering to ever increasing access for every minor ailment.”