Online Abuse Against GP Practice Staff: Practical Ways to Respond

Across the UK, GP practice staff are increasingly facing online abuse, either as part of the business or on a personal level. Here we look at practical steps a practice can take. 

This abuse ranges from hurtful comments on social media to direct threats, taking a significant toll on staff well-being, patient care, and the overall healthcare system. Understanding the causes, impacts, and potential solutions is crucial to create safer and more respectful online environments for both patients and healthcare professionals.

A 2023 report by the Bradford District and Craven Health Care Partnerships found that 75% of GP appointments are now face-to-face, yet patients continue to express frustration with access and wait times. This, coupled with negative media portrayals of GPs from many of the national tabloid press fuels misplaced anger and results in online abuse.

A 2024 statement by Workington GP Practice revealed an increase in "abuse and inappropriate behaviour" towards staff, with some facing online harassment and even threats. Such incidents are not isolated, highlighting the widespread nature of this issue.

Causes and Contributing Factors

Several factors contribute to this growing trend of online abuse. Frustration with access to appointments, fuelled by media narratives and complex healthcare realities, can lead to misplaced anger directed at GP staff.

Additionally, misunderstanding of GP roles and responsibilities, coupled with unrealistic expectations, can create fertile ground for criticism and negativity. The anonymity and relative ease of online communication can encourage these ‘keyboard warriors’ to resort to abusive language and behaviour they might not say in a face-to-face situation.

Impacts on Patients, Staff, and Practices

The consequences of online abuse are far-reaching. Patients may think twice about getting help because of the negativity against a particular GP practice, potentially delaying crucial care. Staff morale and well-being suffer, leading to increased stress, burnout, and staff turnover, further impacting patient care. Practices grapple with the emotional and administrative burden of managing abuse incidents, diverting resources from core healthcare functions. Ultimately, the entire healthcare system suffers.

Practical Steps for GP Practices

GP practices can take proactive steps to address online abuse:


  • Open communication: Foster open and transparent communication with patients through regular updates, online resources, and clear explanations of GP roles and limitations.
  • Build trust: Create a welcoming and empathetic environment where patients feel heard and respected, both online and offline.
  • Patient education: Educate patients about appropriate online behaviour and encourage respectful communication through dedicated campaigns and information materials.

Detection & Reporting

  • Clear policies: Establish clear policies and procedures for identifying and reporting online abuse incidents, ensuring all staff are aware of their rights and responsibilities.
  • Support systems: Provide staff with dedicated support systems and reporting channels where they can confidentially discuss incidents and access emotional support.
  • Collaboration: Collaborate with local authorities and social media platforms to report and address abusive behaviour swiftly and effectively.

Response & Support

  • Measured approach: Develop protocols for responding to online abuse in a calm and professional manner, focusing on factual information and avoiding engaging in unproductive arguments.
  • Prioritise safety: Prioritise the safety and well-being of staff, with clear escalation procedures for potential threats or harassment.
  • Staff well-being: Implement initiatives to support staff resilience and well-being, such as stress management workshops and counselling services.

Combating online abuse against GP practice staff requires a multi-pronged approach, involving individual, organisational, and systemic efforts. It's crucial to remember that the fight against online abuse requires collective action, with patients, healthcare professionals, and the wider community working together to promote respect and understanding.

Additional Resources

Created by Survindar Chahal
Survindar Chahal
Survindar is the Content Manager for FPM Group. An ex-Practice Manager with an NHS background and previously worked in senior urgent care management roles.


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