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Violence against doctors is up: survey

by Brendon Nafziger, DOTmed News Associate Editor | May 25, 2010
New survey indicates
violence against doctors is up.
Violence against doctors is up, with many physicians saying health centers offer little support, according to a survey released by the British Medical Association's Northern Ireland division Monday.

The poll found over half of physicians reported getting threatened, physically assaulted or verbally insulted by patients in the past year, according to the BMA (NI). One-third reported violence had increased since last year, and half said there were no improvements in controlling violence. Only 3 percent believed violence had gone down.

Nearly 44 percent of respondents said their institutions gave them no support after reporting the abuse.

"The findings of this survey are incredibly worrying for the medical profession," Dr. Paul Darragh, chairman of BMA's Northern Ireland council, said in a statement. "The effect of threats, abuse and assaults impact not only on doctors on the receiving end, but also the wider health care team and other patients."

Darragh himself is a victim of patient abuse, according to the doctors group.

In the survey, hospital wards were the most turbulent. Sixty percent of violence occurred in hospital wards, Darragh said.

Still, the vast majority of incidents were verbal: only 8 percent of primary care doctors reported actual physical assaults last year, with a slightly higher percentage of secondary care (specialist) doctors saying they got real knocks.

The survey involved around 400 doctors in Northern Ireland and was conducted by phone last year.

The BMA (NI) is calling for better training of doctors, most of whom aren't instructed in how to deal with the attacks. Sixty percent of primary care doctors and 85 percent of hospital ones who participated in the survey had never been taught how to handle violent patients, according to the doctors group. The BMA (NI) also wants patient records to list whether the patient has attacked health care workers, and it would like to have more secure facilities: only 7 percent of doctors have one to treat violent patients in, the survey reported.