Top doctors and nurses have condemned abuse directed at healthcare workers after the head of the Royal College of Midwives was sent death threats for urging pregnant women to get vaccinated against Covid-19.
Health organisations representing hundreds of thousands of NHS staff spoke out against a “sinister tide” of abuse and aggression that has reportedly grown in the past few months.
In an open letter, published in The Times today, the group – including the NHS Confederation and the Academy of Royal Colleges – hit out at a “small, aggressive minority”.
“As health and care professionals, we have been moved by the support given to us by the public throughout the pandemic. However, a small but sinister tide has been rising of people who, at best, seek to undermine the important public health advice we give, and, at worst, incite abuse and violence against us,” they wrote.
Gill Walton, chief executive of the Royal College of Midwives, was this week subjected to death threats likening her to Myra Hindley after she made a public call for pregnant women to get the jab.
Health leaders say the abuse follows a steady rise in reports of NHS staff feeling threatened. Examples include people working at blood and transplant units being abused for telling the public to wear masks and a surgery hit by an arson attack.
The letter continued: “We will no longer tolerate the unacceptable behaviour of those who respond aggressively to polite requests to wear masks in our hospitals and GP practices or who stand outside hospitals shouting denials of the pandemic’s existence, and who use their platforms to incite violence against us.”
Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, chairwoman of the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges, said abuse had spiked since restrictions were lifted.
“When the pandemic started there was an outpouring of support, but this has noticeably deteriorated in recent months from a small and aggressive minority,” she told The Times. “In the past we have been proud to wear our NHS badges, now people are hiding them.”
She added that this “new wave of destructive and aggressive behaviour” should “not be happening in a civilised society”.
‘This must stop’
Walton said: “Over the past 16 months, health and care workers have strived to provide the best possible care. I know the vast majority of the public are incredibly grateful for that dedication and commitment.
“However, too many health and care workers have faced abuse from a small but vocal minority, from Covid deniers to antivaxers. Our midwives, doctors, nurses, porters, cleaners, everyone working for the NHS has the right to safety and respect in the workplace.”
Unison’s general secretary, Christina McAnea, added: “It’s health workers that have made the vaccination programme such a success. But as they encourage everyone to have their jabs, some have suffered appalling abuse. This must stop.
“The pandemic is real, and the virus can kill. Antivaxers and Covid deniers are entitled to their opinions. But they must be prevented from hounding dedicated NHS staff, who must be protected so they can do their jobs in peace.”