SAs doctors report abuse during Covid-19 pandemic

A large proportion of doctors report being mistreated by patients during Covid-19.

A third of doctors in South Africa report that they endured verbal or physical abuse from patients, their relatives or members of the public during the Covid-19 pandemic. Additionally, nearly half of doctors felt their mental wellbeing had deteriorated during the period. 

These findings emerged from a survey conducted by the Medical Protection Society (MPS). The medical defence body represents 32,000 health-care professionals in South Africa. More than 500 medical professionals took part in the survey, relating their experiences anonymously between October 22 and November 11. 

The survey results were announced at MPS’s annual Ethics for All conference. The society said the abuse presented yet another source of anxiety for doctors “at the worst possible time”.

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

“Healthcare professionals in South Africa 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.

One doctor recalled patients and their escorts arguing that they were tired of abiding by Covid-19 regulations and refusing to wear masks. Others said a lot of patients viewed Covid-19 as a big medical conspiracy, and described being abused by patients who had to wait for treatment.