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Objective - To survey the extent of abuse and violence directed towards general practitioners during the course of their professional duties and to categorise the characteristics of such aggression. Design - Retrospective survey of the views of a large sample of general practitoners by using a piloted postal questionnaire. Setting - All medical practices in the west midlands. Subjects - A total of 1093 general practitioners (40.6% of the total sample) who responded to the questionnaire. Main outcome measure - Number of incidents of aggression experienced by the general practitioners during a period of 12 months and the incidence of various precipitating factors. Results - Although the reponse was low at 40.6%, this study is the largest published database on aggression towards family doctors. In all, 687 (62.9%) of the responders had experienced abuse or violance during the previous 12 months, and 191 (17.5%) had experienced some sort of abuse at least once a month and 11 (1%) had experienced verbal abuse every day. Even assuming that all of the non-responders did not experience any violence, then aggression in patients affects 25.5% of general practitioners in the west midlands. For those practitioners who had experienced aggression in patients the annual incidence of an event per general practitioner was 2.42. In all, 96 (14%) of these general practitioners thought that aggression was increasing. A total of 1520 (91.3%) of all incidents comprised verbal abuse or threats with no direct physical act. The surgery was the commonest location for aggression, with 942 (56.6%) incidents; however 90 (62.5%) of the incidents involving assault or injury occurred during domiciliary visits and 22 (66%) of the injuries were received during night calls. Relatives were the aggressors in 668 (37.6%) cases, anxiety was a precipitant in 435 (25.7%) cases, and a long wait in 183 (10.8%). Conclusions - Violence towards general practitioners is common and may be increasing. Some of the precipitants of aggression are potentially avoidable and practices should make strenuous attempts to identify such factors and remedy them. Staff training in interpersonal skills and recognising anxious or intoxicated patients is essential and should be supplemented by consideration of surgery layout and repair. Doctors should avoid delays for patients by rearranging booking policies or surgery times and lengths. Victims of aggression must be followed up. A prospective study or centralised recording of incidents should be funded.

Original publication




Journal article


British Medical Journal

Publication Date





329 - 332