Abusive behaviour experienced by primary care receptionists: a cross-sectional survey

Fam Pract. 2004 Apr;21(2):137-9. doi: 10.1093/fampra/cmh204.


Background: Receptionists act as gatekeepers to GPs, and thus are often placed in situations of conflict. However, there is a lack of research in this area.

Objective: The purpose of this study was to identify the incidence and associations of verbal and physical abuse against primary care receptionists, both pre- and post-'zero tolerance'.

Methods: A postal questionnaire was designed, piloted and sent to all reception staff in 50 randomly selected general practices in Leeds. The primary purpose was to identify any verbal or physical abuse experienced in the 12 months prior to the survey and assess the association between abuse experienced and deprivation.

Results: Seventy percent of receptionists completed and returned the questionnaire. Over two-thirds of receptionists had experienced verbal abuse in the last year. During the same time period, 60% reported telephone abuse and 55% reported face to face abuse. The incidence of abuse was higher in the year prior to the study than in the preceding period. Practice deprivation was identified as a significant factor for verbal abuse (P = 0.003).

Conclusion: Verbal abuse against receptionists is significantly associated with the level of deprivation of the practice area. There is no evidence that 'zero tolerance' led to a reduction in abuse experienced by primary care receptionists. All primary care receptionists should receive adequate training on managing abuse.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • England / epidemiology
  • Female
  • Focus Groups
  • Humans
  • Incidence
  • Logistic Models
  • Male
  • Medical Receptionists / statistics & numerical data*
  • Middle Aged
  • Occupational Exposure / statistics & numerical data*
  • Primary Health Care / statistics & numerical data*
  • Telephone / statistics & numerical data
  • Verbal Behavior
  • Violence / statistics & numerical data*