Staff at GP surgery ‘locked themselves in’ after aggressive incident

One of Northern Ireland’s best-known doctors has described how staff in his practice were forced by a “very aggressive, and very abusive” man to lock themselves in a room for their own safety.

Dr Alan Stout
Dr Alan Stout

Dr Alan Stout, who chairs the British Medical Association’s (BMA) GP committee in Northern Ireland, has said frontline medical staff have increasingly been subjected to aggression and even violence as “frustration” with long care waiting times boils over.

In an interview with the News Letter, Dr Stout described how a GP and staff at his own practice on Westminster Avenue in Belfast were left “very shaken and very upset” by a violent incident on Wednesday.

“It involved a very aggressive, and very abusive individual who came into the practice and smashed down a door,” he said.

“The staff who were there had to lock themselves into a room. Fortunately, they had some forewarning because he had been on the phone first and had made some threats.”

He continued: “That is one incident in my own practice but what it does is highlight what is happening. It is quite widespread, every day, in practices starting with rudeness and aggression on the phone and quite often in person as well.”

Asked if there is a link between the level of aggression directed at frontline health staff and the intense pressures experienced across the health service, Dr Stout said: “There’s an unquestionable link and we see that.

“People are hugely frustrated and we can see that their patience is running thin. They are concerned and they are anxious. That’s perfectly understandable and we actually share a lot of that frustration, but it should never, ever step over into aggression and certainly not into violence.

“It is misplaced but we are there, we are the point of contact. General Practice and Emergency Departments are the two very obvious points of contact within the health service.”

Dr Laurence Dorman, chair of the Royal College of GPs, has also spoken out against the level of aggression directed at medical professionals.

He told the News Letter: “Violence against any healthcare staff is unacceptable, whether it be general practice or whether it be in emergency departments. It often spills over from people who have waited a long time [for care]. We need a culture that is positive and respectful. If we have a culture which is constantly negative, it almost emboldens people to go a step further.”

He added: “If criticisms are unkind and aggressive, that can spill over.”

A spokesperson for the PSNI said: “Police received a report of a disturbance at a medical practice in the Holywood Arches area of Belfast on Wednesday, 2nd March.

“It was reported a male attended the practice and kicked open the outer door, causing damage to a wooden frame and door handle.

“On entry to the premises, the male was verbally aggressive towards reception staff and smashed a plant pot.

“He also made a threat to kill towards a member of medical staff and continued to shout and act aggressively.”

The spokesperson added: “Police arrested the male at his home address on suspicion of a number of offences including threats to kill, disorderly behaviour and criminal damage. He has since been released pending a report to the Public Prosecution Service.”