A GP practice has been found by a judge not to have discriminated against a patient they removed from the practice list for abusing and threatening staff. The Medical Defence Union (MDU), supported the practice in defending the initial claim, brought under the Equality Act 2010, and two later appeals.
The MDU, the UK's leading medical defence organisation, said the judgement should give confidence to practices dealing with abusive or violent patients.
Equality Act claims are not covered by GPs' state indemnity, but MDU membership can extend to support members with such cases.
Dr Claire Wratten, senior medical claims handler, explained:
"This is an important judgement for GP practices and should give them confidence in following their zero tolerance approach to dealing with violent, abusive and threatening behaviour. While not common, the MDU is seeing more claims involving allegations of discrimination on the grounds of disability against members.
"During the court hearing, it was distressing to hear both the GP and the reception manager describe in their evidence how they felt intimidated, threatened and were shaking as a result of the exchange. Sadly, this type of incident is increasingly common with 8 in 10 GP members responding to an MDU survey reporting increasing levels of abuse from patients and their representatives.
"It is worth remembering that Equality Act claims are not covered by state indemnity under the clinical scheme for general practice (CNSGP). This demonstrates the value of MDU membership, which can come to the aid of members in defending such cases."
The claim arose from a 2018 incident in which the patient became abusive and threatening after asking for an amendment to be made to a repeat prescription. The police were called and a decision was taken to remove the patient from the list because of the level of aggression involved.
The patient's claim alleged the surgery treated him unfavourably because of his underlying condition and that they failed to make reasonable adjustments. The MDU defended the case on the basis that removing the patient from the practice list was proportionate and reasonable, given the patient's intimidating behaviour.
Dismissing the claim, the judge found that the patient had behaved in an "aggressive and intimidating" way and that "others felt threatened by him". In the judgement he commented: "It seems to me that it is legitimate and necessary to protect frontline staff from abuse especially where it reaches the level of putting them in fear."
The patient later appealed to the Court of Appeal and Supreme Court but these cases were dismissed.
For further details of the claim, read our full case study: Successful defence of Equality Act claim.
This page was correct at publication on 11/09/2023. Any guidance is intended as general guidance for members only. If you are a member and need specific advice relating to your own circumstances, please contact one of our advisers.