Violence against doctors: a medical(ised) problem? The case of National Health Service general practitioners

M. Elston, Jonathan Gabe, David Denney, R Lee, M. O’Beirne

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Violence against doctors provides an illuminating context for studying medicalisation and its limits in the management of deviance. The paper examines the emergence of such violence as a policy issue in England, with particular reference to general practitioners (GPs) in the National Health Service. Recent guidance exhorts doctors to exercise ‘zero tolerance’ with respect to acts of violence. The emphasis is on risk management and protecting victims rather than on resolving the perpetrators’ problems. The paper argues that this policy frame is consistent with recent claims from criminologists that there is a new ‘turn’ in penal policy, away from rehabilitation and addressing the needs of individual offenders. However, responses of individual GPs, obtained through a postal questionnaire sent to c.1000 GPs and in-depth interviews with a sub-sample, suggest that doctors are not ‘zero tolerant’ in responding to attacks. But nor are they medical imperialists seeking to include all perpetrators within their professional jurisdiction. Rather, they exercise professional discretion about behaviours which often fall into a ‘grey area’ between ‘illness’ and ‘crime’, and about individuals who are not clearly categorisable as either ‘sick’or‘bad’.

Original languageEnglish
JournalSociology of Health and Illness
Issue number5
Early online date16 Sept 2002
Publication statusPublished - 2002

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