When treating patients, doctors working in riot hotspots in the UK should be extra careful to protect their practices, says MDDUS (Medical and Dental Defence Union of Scotland), a professional indemnity company that covers doctors and dentists throughout the UK.
MDDUS says general practitioners should take a "common sense approach" when providing services to their patients under potentially hazardous circumstances.
A number of GP (general practitioner, primary care physician) practices in various parts of London have been badly affected by riots and violence. According to local newspaper reports, some have been broken into by looters.
Riots, which started during last weekend, have spread rapidly throughout the capital city and many parts of the country, including Nottingham, Birmingham, Bristol, Liverpool and Manchester.
Senior medical adviser at MDDUS, Dr Gail Gilmartin, said:
"Doctors face real practical difficulties when trying to provide services during outbreaks of violence, as seen in the recent London riots.
The main consideration for them at this time will be to continue providing these essential services to patients while taking steps to ensure no one's safety is being put at risk."
Guidelines for doctors' practices issued by LMCs (Londonwide Local Medical Committees) on how to minimize the risk to medical staff and their practices during these riots sits comfortably with the General Medical Council (GMC) guidelines, MDDUS believes. These guidelines must be followed during periods of civil unrest.
Dr Gilmartin said:
The GMC acknowledges that doctors face risks. In their guidance Good Medical Practice they make it clear that doctors should carry out a risk assessment and take steps to minimise risks or look to provide alternative arrangements.
However it is also clear that the GMC expects doctors to behave professionally at all times, and if necessary be able to explain and justify their decisions and actions. We advise a commonsense approach, to include discussion with the PCT and LMC in order to maintain appropriate service arrangements."
It is crucial that doctors take extra measures to make sure they and their staff are safe - a protocol that allows safe entry and exit to and from their premises must be established, MDDUS urges.
If home visits become impossible to perform, practices must inform their patients promptly.
Dr Gilmartin says:
"There are a number of practical steps that can be taken to protect practice staff and services under these circumstances. For example, with the risk of fire attacks on premises, practices should ensure paper medical records and any other essential computer files are in a safe, secure place. Each practice will have to make plans as to what to do in these circumstances. The general advice is to gather as much information as possible, decide on urgency, act in the patient's best interests and apply common sense."
How did it all start?The highlights below are tenuous, because nobody is really sure - things have developed so fast:
- Mark Duggan, 29, is shot dead by police after an exchange of gunfire - later a police radio was found to have a bullet lodged in it.
- Approximately 300 people assemble outside Tottenham police station after a peaceful march. They say they they want justice for Mr. Duggan and his family.
- The protest soon becomes violent and details become sketchy. Bottles are thrown at two police cars near the police station, one of them is set on fire while the other is pushed into the middle of the road, and also set alight. Reports (unconfirmed) say things got out of control after a confrontation between a teenager and a police officer. Riot police on horseback are deployed to disperse the crowds. They come under attack with fireworks, bottles and other projectiles. At this point, media and others wonder how a peaceful protest had fireworks and bottles, and suggest organized groups of criminals hijacked the protest for their own means.
- Local media suggest that gangs, looters and thugs, and perhaps some other organized groups deliberately created chaos so that they could rob from shops and settle scores.
- Looters and thugs, through Twitter and other high tech communication routes, grow in numbers amazingly rapidly and ransack streets.
- Problem spreads rapidly to other cities. Police and authorities taken totally by surprise.
- The silent majority (local residents), also through Twitter and other modern communication routes respond in huge numbers and scare off a considerable number of looters.
Many say that the advent of Twitter and similar networks are fundamentally changing the way society behaves, making it much harder for authorities to make predictions and take effective measures.
Written by Christian Nordqvist