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Last Updated: Monday, 22 March, 2004, 13:08 GMT
Doctor on the frontline
As figures reveal more than 5,000 attacks on health and social service workers in Northern Ireland last year, BBC News Online speaks to one doctor on the receiving end of violent patients.

Dr Tom Black feels the problem is getting worse
Dr Tom Black feels the problem is getting worse
Being attacked by a patient while trying to save their life is not something most General Practitioners are forced to deal with.

For Northern Ireland GP Dr Tom Black, verbal and physical violence is a common feature of his out-of-hours surgery.

Staff at his surgery in the Abbey Medical Practice in Londonderry feel the situation is getting worse.

"It is people throwing things, swinging their fists and threatening your life. They are drunks mostly," says the Derry GP.

"The out-of-hours surgery runs from 6pm until 9am and those who cause the trouble usually come in after midnight.

"They are drunk and abusive and ask for something which is unreasonable, such as getting them a hospital bed until they are sober."

Perversely, if you have someone in who is drunk and abusive, they will be dealt with sooner than a child in the next cubicle because you want to get them out and get on with your work
Dr Tom Black

The troublemakers normally start off with threats, move on to throwing furniture and then physical attacks on staff.

A new campaign is being launched by the Department of Health to reinforce the message that verbal and physical attacks will not be tolerated.

The campaign is aimed at reassuring staff that they do not have to accept such abuse.

"I have been working for 20 years and I feel the problem has been getting worse down through those years," says Dr Black.

"The attitude seems to be that if they bully medical staff they can get what they want.

"Perversely, if you have someone in who is drunk and abusive, they will be dealt with sooner than a child in the next cubicle because you want to get them out and get on with your work."

'Cut an artery'

He says abusive and violent patients cause considerable upset to ill people in the surgery, as well as staff.

"It is dreadful for other patients, like a mother with a child who is worried sick about them.

"They swing their fists at me, but they have yet to connect. They throw furniture at me, but I duck and it goes through the window.

"The last guy put his fist through the window and the glass cut an artery in his leg.

"While the blood was running out - and I was trying to put a bandage on his leg - he was swinging at me."

Dr Black says on many occasions the incidents are so serious he has no option but to call the police.

"The solution to this is zero-tolerance. If someone threatens us verbally, then I draw the line," he says.

"They are asked to leave, and if they become physically violent then the police are called.

"I think magistrates are now taking a stronger line and I think this and zero-tolerance are the key solutions."




WATCH AND LISTEN
BBC NI's Kevin Sharkey:
"The problem involves attacks on many workers including health visitors, social workers, dentists and even reception staff"



SEE ALSO:
Health staff attacks 'unacceptable'
22 Mar 04  |  Northern Ireland
Doctor outlines 'frightening' assaults
10 Mar 04  |  Northern Ireland
Attacks force doctors to move
08 Dec 03  |  Northern Ireland


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