Family doctors and their staff face regular death threats from angry patients vowing to burn down their homes and hunt down their children as a GP shortage reaches crisis point.

International travel bans are preventing the recruitment of more doctors from some countries, exacerbating jammed appointment schedules across the state.

Rising populations and a flood of patients seeking help for serious mental health conditions and substance abuse are also being blamed for the shocking rise in abuse, with receptionists being abused and insulted daily as they tell desperate patients that they can't squeeze them.

Family First Medical Centre practice manager Carrie Norval outlined the extent of the threats in a Facebook post that sparked dozens of doctors and practice managers from Bundaberg to Brisbane to reveal they too live in fear and their work situation has become unbearable.

Dr Wayne Norval, practice manager Carrie Norval and assistant Practice Manager Alissa Mahoney from Family First Medical Centre in Hervey Bay. Picture: Cody Fox
Dr Wayne Norval, practice manager Carrie Norval and assistant Practice Manager Alissa Mahoney from Family First Medical Centre in Hervey Bay. Picture: Cody Fox

"We have had patients say they will burn the f--ing practice down or they will burn our own houses down and come for our families," she said.

"A particularly frightening incident was when a patient with serious mental problems and a recorded history of fantasising of chopping up people and keeping them in the bath tub lost control and was very intimidating.

"He asked me to write my name down on a piece of paper and for a long time after I was scared stiff for myself, my children and my family."

Ms Norval, who is the director of the practice with her doctor husband Wayne Norval, said not a week went by when a doctor, nurse or receptionist would "simply sob their hearts out".

Dr Bruce Willett, Queensland chair of the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners, said there has been a societal change and practices, particularly in rural and regional areas, are seeing more abusive behaviour and substance abuse is a big driver.

"Also young doctors are not so interested in getting into general practice as it's not well remunerated," he said.

Dr Kat McLean, General Practice Gold Coast Chair, and Queensland Australian Medical Association GP Council said GP practices are struggling to employ doctors and some patients don't deal well when they have to wait for an appointment.

Many regional areas like Hervey Bay, Mackay and Maryborough do not have Distribution Priority Area DPA status, which means they cannot employ doctors from overseas who are eligible for Medicare.

"There is a lot of disparity between regions. Recently I had to find an appointment with a female doctor for a patient in the Moreton Bay area and the wait was six weeks," Dr McLean said.

"I work on the Gold Coast and it is not unusual to see people there get frustrated, angry and abusive. Many GP practices are struggling.

"We hear that hospitals are under intense pressure but the family doctor is too. Some are leaving their practices as the pressures are too much and that situation will be so much worse if they shut up shop."

Dr John Hall, president of the Rural Doctors' Association of Australia said that it makes sense that there would be some problems with flying international doctors into the country during COVID-19 restrictions.

"I don't have the data but anecdotally that would be the case. But international doctors won't solve the problem. We have plenty of our own doctors, the problem is that we have very poor distribution of them. There needs to be some innovative thinking on how all areas of the country can be properly serviced," he said.

The Australian Medical Association reports that in the last year close to three-quarters of people with a mental illness have gone to their GP first and they have experienced a 30 per cent increase in patients reporting with mental health concerns in the past year.

The wait to see a psychologist or psychiatrist can extend to nine months.

There are many reasons for the lack of doctors in certain areas of the state.

 

 

 

 

Originally published as Death threats, insults, abuse: Why GPs are living in fear



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