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GPs face patient complaints over shielding and PPE

by Sofia Lind
3 June 2020

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The Medical Defence Union (MDU) has expressed concern that GPs are facing an unexpectedly large number of complaints despite the Covid-19 pandemic.

It said it has been notified by members of over 300 complaints since the UK went into lockdown but said this would be the tip of the iceberg – with complaints including patients being unhappy with aspects of the shielding process, or that PPE made communication difficult.

In response, the doctors’ defence organisation has urged the public to consider the additional pressures that complaints will put on the health service.

Dr Caroline Fryar, MDU head of advisory services said: ‘We’re really surprised about how many complaints about the pandemic our members have asked for our support with and the types of issues being raised during this short period. Complaints numbers are a little down on what we’d normally see, but we expected a bigger drop given the public’s grateful recognition of the incredibly challenging circumstances our members are working in.’  

The MDU listed examples of complaints related to Covid-19, many of which were against GPs, as:

  • Patients being unhappy about aspects of the shielding process.
  • Prescriptions for non-essential medication.
  • Patients unhappy not to be able to see a doctor in person for a minor existing condition.
  • Complaints about the doctor’s manner during phone consultations such as not addressing the patient correctly, lack of clarity or not enough information provided.
  • That PPE made communication difficult or that it was not worn or was inadequate.

Dr Fryar added: ‘We are concerned about the additional pressures on our members at a time of extraordinary upheaval when it’s far from business as usual. Even if complaints don’t need an immediate response during the pandemic, they’re diverting doctors’ attention and can cause additional stress for medical professionals. They and their colleagues need to be allowed to concentrate on providing a safe service for all patients.’

The news comes as a group of MPs, led by Dr Philippa Whitford, has called for the Government to appoint an expert committee to set out clear medico-legal guidance relating to the Covid-19 pandemic.