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A third of SA's doctors have suffered verbal or physical abuse during Covid-19 pandemic

Suthentira Govender Senior reporter
Nearly half of doctors felt their mental wellbeing was worse now than at the start of the pandemic, a survey has found.
Nearly half of doctors felt their mental wellbeing was worse now than at the start of the pandemic, a survey has found.

A third of doctors in SA have suffered verbal or physical abuse from patients, their relatives or members of the public during the Covid-19 pandemic.

That's according to a survey conducted by medical defence body the Medical Protection Society (MPS), which represents 32,000 health-care professionals in SA.

More than 500 medical professionals took part in the survey conducted between October 22 and November 11. The participants related their experiences anonymously.

One said: “I have had patients and their escorts who verbally start arguing that they are ‘tired’ of abiding by the Covid regulation and refuse to wear masks.”

Another told how he was berated publicly and via a telephone call after calling out a store owner for not adhering to social distancing or mask wearing enforcement at his business.

“Upon calling authorities I came to determine that there was no quick recourse,” he said.

One doctor said a lot of patients viewed Covid-19 as “some big medical conspiracy”.

“So difficulties are often targeted at outpatient doctors.”

Others spoke about how doctors and nurses were abused if patients had to wait for treatment.

The survey results were announced at MPS's annual Ethics For All conference on Thursday. The society described the results as “deplorable” and said the abuse presented yet another source of anxiety for doctors “at the worst possible time”.

The same survey showed that nearly half of doctors felt their mental wellbeing was worse than at the start of the pandemic.

Dr Volker Hitzeroth, a medico-legal consultant at MPS, said: “These survey results make for sombre reading and demonstrate that many doctors feel under attack.

“While this is a frustrating and extremely stressful time for the public, it is sad and deplorable to think that one in three doctors, who go to work every day in the most challenging circumstances, putting patients first, face abuse - not only in their place of work but in public too.

“Many doctors told MPS they have been abused by patients and families when trying to enforce social distancing and mask wearing. Doctors and staff have also been abused by patients being triaged and waiting for treatment.

“Health-care professionals in SA already faced myriad daily challenges before Covid-19. The pandemic has worsened these challenges. Already burdened health resources are being stretched further, doctors are worried for the safety of their patients and their own families, and are now facing compounding threats of abuse from the very people they care for,” said Hitzeroth.