Increased Abuse as Public Frustration with Access Boils Over

Increased Abuse as Public Frustration with Access Boils Over

The changing experiences of dental professionals have been bought into sharp focus by a recent survey from one of the largest indemnifiers. A new Dental Protection survey of over 1,300 UK dental professionals, revealed that more than half (57%) had experienced or witnessed verbal or physical abuse from patients, or their relatives, in the past 12 months.   

Respondents said that 64% of these incidents resulted from frustration over long waiting times for appointments. 59% related to treatment issues.

At the most extreme, respondent’s comments included: “A patient was told his orthodontic treatment was to be terminated due to poor compliance. He became verbally abusive and threatened to stab us. We had to barricade ourselves in the surgery until the police arrived, and all the while he was trying to kick the surgery door in.”

At a lower level but still very hurtful for those trying to do their best in difficult conditions, one respondent spoke for many in saying, “Patients are verbally abusive when informed about the lack of capacity for NHS treatment. They accuse staff of being uncaring.”

Unsurprisingly this is taking a toll on dental professional’s mental health with 58% saying theirs had been affected, and as a consequence 37% were reconsidering their career choice. Almost a third at 31%, did not feel that police took instances of abuse seriously.

Dr Raj Rattan, Dental Director at Dental Protection, said: “Patients who are seeking dental care either for routine care or dental emergencies are becoming increasingly frustrated because of long waiting times and closed lists. Dental professionals continue to offer quality care in a challenging environment but there is a limit when it comes to available capacity.

“While most patient interactions are convivial it is alarming to learn that a high proportion of dental professionals experience verbal and physical abuse from patients – including, as reported, being threatened with stabbing.

Underlining that this was not a problem dental teams could deal with alone, he added, “Police and Crime Commissioners, and police forces across the UK, should consider how they can support local dental practices; for example, by encouraging reporting of abuse and offering practical advice on recognising warning signs or de-escalation techniques.

“The Government and police must take every possible step to tackle this issue. If we don’t act, we may lose many more skilled, committed dental professionals at a time when the industry can ill-afford it.”

 Amongst other anonymous comments made by dental professionals participating in the survey were:

 “I was physically threatened because a patient could not access care anywhere due to closed lists. We involved the police and the patient received a caution.”

“Patients are frustrated at not getting NHS ortho due to lack of consultants and practitioners. I can understand why they are upset it’s just hard being the ’verbal’ punching bag – these services should not be postcode dependant".

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