Professional medical associations throughout Spain received 843 complaints of physical and verbal aggression in 2022. It is the highest recorded since the Collegiate Medical Organization (OMC) began measuring statistics in 2010, and represents a 38% increase over to the previous year.

The figure is “the tip of the iceberg, since many doctors have become accustomed to living with threats and do not report them”, said José María Rodríguez Vicente, secretary general of the WTO and member of the National Observatory on Aggressions, who presented the data from the first European day of attacks on health professionals, held this Thursday in Madrid.

“Perhaps the pandemic has changed society as a whole, which has come out with more anxiety, more depression and more aggression. And covid also generated the post-pandemic, those consultations that were not carried out at the time, which have caused delay… and when the patient arrived at the doctor there were already diagnoses that were already catastrophic. Perhaps these are the reasons for this increase”, he hypothesized, making it clear that the study is quantitative and does not analyze what is behind the growth in attacks.

Most attacks are insults and harassment (47%), followed by threats and coercion (37%) and insults (16%). The most frequent profile of aggression is that which occurs to a doctor (they are women in 61% of cases) in primary care (43%) in public health (89%), by a man (55%) between 40 and 60 years old (51%) who had an appointment scheduled (48%) with discrepancies in the care received (41%). 10% of these aggressions resulted in the doctor being sick leave and 42% were reported to the authorities (either courts, police or Civil Guard).

Aggressions have grown in all areas, but in relative terms primary care has less weight than in 2021. In hospitals it rises five points and is at 27%, ahead of hospital emergencies (9%) and outpatient emergencies (8%) . 2 out of 10 attacks are not related to medical care or care issues but are due to structural issues. Among them, 64.3% were caused by the time spent in care, followed by malfunctions in the center (24.9%) and problems related to covid protocols (11.7%).

Within the assistance causes, after medical care, there are personal discrepancies (13.8%), not prescribing what the patient proposes (12.4%), all related to temporary disability (10.6%) and, finally, reports not consistent with the claims (9.9 %).

The data is very indicative of the situation in Spain, but it must be taken into account that it is not a scientifically compiled statistic, but rather the complaints that doctors have reported voluntarily, so there may be some distortions with the reality of the situation. As Manuel Yanguas, national health police representative of the National Police, said at the conferences, this is a “serious” problem, but it is not “well quantified”.

With that premise in mind, the distribution of attacks by autonomous community is very uneven. Three communities (Cantabria, Catalonia and Extremadura), as well as Ceuta and Melilla, are above five attacks per 1,000 registered doctors. Four are below one per 1,000: Canary Islands, Galicia, Basque Country and Navarre. The others are closer to the Spanish average, which is 2.87.

Although the study focuses on physicians, it is not an issue that only affects them. Yanguas explained that other health professionals, such as dentists, physiotherapists, nurses, pharmacists, veterinarians and social workers, asked the police for help and training in techniques and tools to prevent aggression.

One of the keys that Yanguas gave is the importance of reporting: “According to Health data, there are 20% of aggressors who reoffend, because they think nothing is happening. But most of them are normal people who had a bad day and exploded. When I say they are normal people, I mean they are not drug dealers, murderers or pedophiles, which we usually deal with. And when they get arrested and go to jail with that kind of criminal, they might think twice next time.”

The Collegiate Medical Organization began compiling statistics on attacks following the murder of a doctor in Murcia by a patient in 2009. Since then, it has recorded more than 6,000 cases. The WTO called for the creation of a National Plan against aggression agreed by the Interterritorial Council of the National Health System and in which all administrations participate together with the platforms of patient associations.