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Practices urged to get support early as patient complaints soar by almost 40%

by Julie Griffiths
30 November 2022

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GPs have been urged to seek support early from their medical defence organisation as complaints received by GP practices surged by 38% in a year.

The Medical Defence Union (MDU) said that as soon as GPs become aware of a potential complaint, they should contact their medical defence organisation.

The advice comes as the latest figures on written complaints in the NHS in 2021/22, published last week, have shown a sharp increase in complaints against GP practices in the past year.

The figures showed there were 99,459 complaints to practices in 2021/22 – up from 72,087 last year.

The number of complaints in 2020/21 was just below pre-covid levels – in 2018/19, there were 72,356 complaints.

No data was collected in 2019/20 during the height of the pandemic.

Dr Catherine Wills, MDU deputy head of advisory services, said GPs should get support even before a complaint is received.

‘Complaints add to the workload and can cause huge worry and stress. Our role is to lessen the burden so members are encouraged to get our support early on, as soon as they are aware of a potential complaint,’ she said. ‘We are here to help.’

According to the NHS digital data, the most common causes of complaints involving GP practices were:

  • communications (14%)
  • clinical treatment (13%)
  • staff attitude/behaviour/values (13%).

The most named staff group in complaints were GPs themselves with 30,681 complaints (30%), while admin staff including receptionists received 27,437 complaints (27%).

Of the 98,433 complaints to practices that were resolved, 50% were not upheld because there was ‘no evidence to support any aspects of a complaint made’.

Three in ten (31%) were upheld and 19% were ‘partially upheld’, while 4,197 complaints were ‘carried forward’.

In 2021/22, the overall number of written NHS complaints, including hospital and community health services, was over 225,570.

More than 120,000 of them were in primary care (GP and dental) and 105,506 in hospital and community health settings.

Last year, a survey by MDU of 740 doctors found that 97% of GPs have received a complaint against them during the course of their career with seven in 10 GPs saying it had impacted their professional and personal lives.