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Feature Patient violence

Beefed up security or blocking patients: how to respond to patient violence

BMJ 2023; 381 doi: (Published 10 May 2023) Cite this as: BMJ 2023;381:p995

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GP practice successfully defends discrimination claim brought by patient who abused staff

  1. Sally Howard, freelance journalist
  1. London, UK
  1. sal{at}

The post-covid wave of patient violence in general practices is beginning to recede. What can we learn about keeping surgery staff safe? Sally Howard finds out

On 20 December 2022, a patient was refused a prescription at Wilson Street GP surgery in Derby. The patient threw furniture, ripped apart posters, and left reception staff reeling from the assault. In the wake of the attack, Wilson Street Surgery GP Shehla Imtiaz-Umer posted on Twitter: “Negative media narrative, anti-GP rhetoric, unrelenting demand & unrealistic expectations leads to this level of violence.” She wrote, “It was a miracle that no one was physically harmed. Who or what will stop this?”

The incident was one of several such attacks on GP surgeries that made headlines in 2021 and 2022, including an attack at a surgery in Oldham in September 2021 that left a GP with a fractured skull.1 An investigation in May 2022 by The BMJ found that the number of violent incidents at UK general practices recorded by police forces had doubled in five years, with 1086 incidents for 2021-22, up from 586 for 2017-18.2

In March 2023, then deputy prime minister Dominic Raab told the House of Commons that “any abuse against any GP in any practice anywhere in the country is absolutely wrong,” in response to a question from Liberal Democrat MP Sarah Olney.3

Imtiaz-Umer tells The BMJ that she had raised the lack of robust reporting mechanisms for patient violence before the December attack but that it took the incident, and the ensuing social media storm,4 to get support from the surgery’s regional NHS England director and integrated care board (ICB). The surgery, which is in the second most deprived decile in England, now has increased lighting on its premises, CCTV, physical barriers to protect reception …

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