Doctors in France Facing Rising Tide of Verbal Abuse

Jacques Cofard

June 09, 2023

France — In a somewhat concerning coincidence, France's doctor safety watchdog published its 20th report on doctor safety through the country's Board of Doctors (the CNOM) as reports were coming in about a nurse being killed by a psychiatric patient at Reims University Hospital. The figures from 2022 show a steep rise in abuse and abusive behavior toward healthcare professionals. There was an increase of 23% compared with 2021; 1244 incidents were reported between January 1 and December 31, 2022, vs 1009 in 2021.

Verbal Abuse Increasing

Verbal abuse and threats are increasing. A total of 906 reports were made in 2022, vs 710 in 2021 (73% vs 70%). Rates of theft and attempted theft are stable (10%), and the rate of physical abuse is in decline (7% vs 9% in 2021), as are acts of vandalism (7% vs 8% in 2021).

With physical attacks down, the number of healthcare workers who took unplanned time off work (between 3 and 8 days in total) also declined (1% of respondents, vs 2% in 2021), while the number of workers who were absent more than 8 days remained stable (1%).

With the number of serious offenses either stable or going down, the number of complaints also dropped slightly (31% vs 32% in 2021), while the number of doctors who failed to report abuse rose (61% vs 59% in 2021). Notably, the number of police incident reports that were filed also declined (8% vs 10% in 2021).

Weapons Used

With regard to physical violence, in 1% of cases (vs 2% in 2021), the aggressor used a weapon. Five attacks involved the use of a cane, three the use of a knife or bladed object, and one involved a gun.

With regard to theft, the items most commonly stolen were prescription pads (3% vs 4% in 2021), followed by handbags, wallets, and shoulder bags (2% of cases reported). Motives for attacks were usually related to treatment or care (33%), refusal of prescriptions (20%), and forgery of documents (11%).

Attacks in Cities

About 56% of attacks occurred in city centers, 21% were rural, and 19% occurred in the suburbs; 73% of incidents took place in the doctor's office, and 23% occurred in hospitals or clinics.

Per the number of police reports filed, the regions with the most cases of abuse were the Hauts-de-France (233 reports), the Ile-de-France (176), and the Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes (139) regions. The departments with the greatest number of reports filed were the Nord (59), the Bouches-du-Rhône (13), and the Loire (42). However, the most affected departments relative to the population size were the Cher (3.8%), the Loire (2.7%), and the Nord (2.3%).

Family Doctors Targeted

Family doctors were most affected by this worrying trend (62% in 2020, 61% in 2021, and 71% in 2022).

Outside of general practice, the specialties most affected by abuse in 2022 were psychiatry (4%), cardiology (3%), and gynecology and obstetrics (2%).

About 56% of doctors who were attacked were women, despite the fact that the proportion of female doctors in the general medical population is just 50%. In more than half of cases, the aggressor was the patient (58%), followed by individuals accompanying the patient (18%).

To prevent abuse and abusive behavior, the CNOM has launched a marketing campaign with the slogan, "We take care of you, please take care of us."

This article was translated from the Medscape French Edition.


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