Doctors Facing Aggression From Patients Who Refuse to Wear Masks

Peter Russell

August 16, 2021

Doctors in Northern Ireland have reported facing increasing cases of aggression from patients and hospital visitors refusing to wear face masks during NHS appointments.

The British Medical Association said there was also growing resistance to being tested for COVID before attending routine appointments or going to emergency departments.

Dr David Farren, deputy chair of BMA Northern Ireland's consultants committee said, face coverings were "a requirement in government-owned buildings" and that the situation was putting an additional burden on the NHS.

"This is extremely challenging for medical staff because we then have to treat these patients as if they have COVID, but we cannot mix them with other COVID patients as that would risk actually giving them COVID if they don’t have it," he said. 

"This puts additional demand on our beds, which are already under significant pressure, and also risks exposing staff, patients, and visitors to potential COVID."

Aggression

Dr Farren confirmed that patients and visitors without masks were being asked by staff to wear one. However, there were "increasing reports of aggressive behaviour towards our staff when challenging those who refuse to wear masks without a medical exemption".

He said: "Testing before assessment or admission is equally important.

"I fully acknowledge that the swabs are not pleasant, but it is essential that anyone who is coming for assessment or admission to hospital is tested if we are to prevent spread of COVID-19 within our hospitals."

Dr Alan Stout from the BMA GP committee added: "GPs have worked extremely hard to keep their premises open and COVID safe for both patients and practice staff. Increasingly we are being challenged by patients who simply don’t want to wear a mask, not because they have a valid exemption.

"Our staff and GPs are just trying to do their job and ensure everyone's safety.

"Having to make special arrangements for people refusing to wear a mask is extremely difficult and time consuming and takes staff away from other tasks that need [to be] completed. We have some very vulnerable patients attending our surgeries and it is vital that we do everything we can to ensure their safety and confidence."

High Rates

Last week the Public Health Agency (PHA) in Northern Ireland urged people to be vigilant for COVID-19 because rates remained higher than elsewhere in the UK.

Dr David Cromie, consultant in health protection at the PHA, said: "It is vital that we all do as much as we can to stop the spread of COVID-19 infection. This is a serious disease and people are still dying or becoming very unwell."

He said it was "also important to be open about your contacts and where you have been", to help prevent further transmission. "We need everyone to continue to follow the public health advice, get tested if they are symptomatic," he said.

Dr Cromie also appealed for people to come forward to be vaccinated and not be put off by misinformation about the vaccines that they may have read online.

On Saturday, Northern Ireland's Health Minister Robin Swann condemned disruption by anti-vaccine protestors at a walk-in vaccination clinic for new and expectant mothers held by the Western Trust at Foyle Arena.

Mr Swann described the protest as "contemptible".

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