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GPs among ‘most likely’ to attract complaints

19 September 2012

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Complaints against doctors have hit a record high with GPs among those most likely to come under fire.

The report by the General Medical Council (GMC) State of Medical Education and Practice in the UK found the number of complaints to the regulator increased by 23% from 7,153 in 2010 to 8,781 in 2011.

Complaints concerning allegations about communication increased by 69% and lack of respect rose by 45%.

There has also been a smaller rise in the number of complaints from medical directors and others holding official positions.

GPs, psychiatrists and surgeons attracted the highest rates of complaints while men, and in particular older male doctors, were also “far more likely” to be the subject of complaints than women.

Doctors who trained outside the UK and Europe were said to be “less likely” to receive a complaint in middle age but “more likely” to face allegations when they were older. 

“We need to respond to the rising number of complaints about doctors – a pattern seen across healthcare,” said Niall Dickson, Chief Executive of the GMC.

“We are investing more in this area and we are rolling out a package of measures both to protect patients and provide greater support for doctors during the course of their careers.

“While we do need to develop a better understanding of why complaints to us are rising, we do not believe it reflects falling standards of medical practice. Every day there are millions of interactions between doctors and patients and all the evidence suggests that public trust and confidence in the UK’s doctors remains extremely high.”

The regulator claims initial analysis of the report’s findings indicate greater expectations, an increased willingness to complain, less tolerance of poor practice within the profession as well as media attention for high profile cases may be behind the increase.

While the rise in complaints has not be attributed to falling medical standards, the likelihood that the GMC will investigate a doctor has now increased from one in 68 in 2010 to one in 64 in 2011.
Chair of the British Medical Association (BMA) Council, Dr Mark Porter, said it is a “good thing” patients feel more empowered to raise concerns against doctors but called for more research into why there has been increase in complaints.

The GMC took action in more than 500 cases against doctors last year and gave advice in a further 700. The names of 65 doctors were erased last year from the medical register and a further 93 were suspended.
Dr Stephanie Bown, Director of Policy and Communications at the Medical Protection Society (MPS), said the rise in complaints needs to be “put into perspective” to avoid an increase in the numbers of doctors practising “defensively” to dodge patient claims and complaints.