Health

Complaints about doctors up 23% in year

  • 18 September 2012
  • From the section Health
Stethoscope
Image caption The rise in complaints by 23% continues a trend seen in recent years

The number of complaints in the UK made to the General Medical Council about doctors has risen 23% in the past year, the regulator says.

The GMC report showed there were 8,781 in 2011 compared to 7,153 in 2010.

The rise is similar to the one the year before and continues a trend which has seen complaints jump by 69% in three years.

But the regulator said there was no evidence to suggest care was getting worse.

Instead, it claimed the rise was down to greater expectations and willingness to complain.

The figures - the most detailed yet to be released by the GMC - showed that not all the complaints led to full-scale investigations.

Nearly 5,000 were closed after an initial assessment, while another 1,537 were deemed not to impair a doctor's ability to practise medicine.

'Better understanding'

In total, 2,330 were investigated fully - a rise of 13% since 2010.

Only 158 of these have led to doctors being suspended or struck from the medical register with many more ending in warnings or advice being issued.

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

The most complained about topic was the care and treatment given, followed by communication and respect for patients, which both saw large rises in the past year.

But the GMC said there was no evidence care was getting worse, pointing out other professions were seeing a rise in complaints too.

Niall Dickson, chief executive of the GMC, added: "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."

He also said the GMC was introducing a number of measures in response to the rise in complaints.

These include a confidential helpline for doctors to report their own concerns, a national induction programme for new doctors and a 15-strong team of employer liaison advisers to develop a closer relationship between the GMC and senior officers responsible for dealing with complaints locally.

Particular concern

Health minister Dr Dan Poulter said it was right that the GMC took steps to better understand what was behind the rise in complaints, but agreed it did not necessarily mean medical standards were falling.

His sentiments were echoed by British Medical Association chairman Dr Mark Porter.

He said: "It is a good thing that patients feel more empowered to raise their concerns."

But Katherine Murphy, chief executive of the Patients Association, said she felt the figures did raise questions about quality of care: "Of particular concern is the huge rise in complaints in relation to communication and lack of respect. Patients have the right to be well informed, treated with dignity and part of shared decisions about their treatment.

"However, evidence from our helpline supports this report in making clear that for too many patients this is simply not happening. Patients often tell our helpline they are not receiving the compassion, dignity and respect which they deserve and are entitled to under the NHS constitution."

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