Mental health

June 2011


Patient initiated aggression

Prevalence and impact for general practice staff

Volume 40, No.6, June 2011 Pages 415-418

Pushpani Herath

Laura Forrest

Ian McRae

Rhian Parker


Patient initiated aggression toward general practice staff can cause distress among staff, however, it is unknown how frequently practice staff experience patient aggression in the workplace. The aim of this study is to determine the national prevalence of patient aggression toward general practice staff.


A clustered cross sectional survey involving general practice staff working in Australia.


A questionnaire was posted to 1109 general practices nationally and 217 questionnaires were completed and returned (19.6% response rate). It was found that verbal aggression is commonly experienced by practice staff, particularly receptionists, whereas physical aggression is infrequent. Staff working in larger practices experience more verbal aggression and property damage or theft and it was reported that verbal aggression has a greater impact on staff wellbeing than physical aggression.


This study provides some national evidence of the prevalence of patient aggression toward general practice staff. This may inform the development of policy and procedures.

The European Commission defines occupational violence as ‘any incident where staff are abused, threatened, or assaulted in circumstances relating to their work, involving an explicit or implicit challenge to their safety, wellbeing or health’.1 Workplace violence falls into three broad categories with the perpetrators being either external to the workplace, clients (or patients) of the workplace, or internal staff members.2 Healthcare workers are particularly at risk of violence initiated by ‘clients’ because of their constant exposure to patients and their families.3,4

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