Patients abusing, attacking doctors, staff

November 29, 2022 09:41 AM AEDT | By AAPNEWS
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NSW doctors and medical staff working in private practice say they need greater protection from aggressive patients, amid reports they are being threatened, sworn at, slapped and punched.

An Australian Medical Association (AMA) survey of 378 medical practices in NSW found 88 per cent had been verbally abused by a patient, while 37 per cent had experienced physical aggression.

AMA NSW President Michael Bonning says during the COVID vaccine roll-out, patients' aggressive behaviour intensified, amid frustrations about limited supplies, or lack of variety.

"Doctors reported receiving death threats, being followed to their cars, and having their practices spray painted and vandalised," he said on Tuesday.

Doctors and staff were also routinely being abused for running late, not having appointments available, not providing disabled parking to ineligible patients, and refusing to write prescriptions for opiates or benzodiazepines.

"These incidences are extremely distressing for doctors and staff members, as well as other patients," Dr Bonning said.

"Unfortunately .... these incidences are not rare events," he said.

The AMA wants penalties for anyone who assaults health workers to include healthcare workers and staff working in private medical practices.

Last month NSW created new offences ranging from 12 months to 14 years in jail for people convicted of assaulting frontline health or emergency workers.

The legislation covers paramedics, pharmacists and pharmacy staff, community first responders, community health workers, people providing medical treatment to patients in hospitals and other similar health institutions, as well as hospital security staff.

However, the bill excludes a range of healthcare providers, including general and private practitioners, Dr Bonning said. 

"NSW now has an opportunity to send a message that this type of behaviour is not acceptable in any setting, including medical practices."

More than 96 per cent of respondents to the survey supported an expansion of the legislation to include healthcare providers and staff working in private practice.

"Healthcare providers and their staff face the same risks as other frontline workers, so it's only logical they would be afforded the same protections."


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