Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 28 December 2014

Rise in complaints against doctors

New GMC figures show that the number of complaints lodged against doctors rose by almost a quarter last year
New GMC figures show that the number of complaints lodged against doctors rose by almost a quarter last year

The number of complaints about doctors has reached a record high.

The General Medical Council (GMC) said that since 2009, the number of complaints has soared - and in the last year alone there has been a 23% increase in the number of grievances lodged against doctors.

Last year 8,781 complaints were made compared to 7,153 in 2010, according to the GMC. One in every 64 doctors is likely to be investigated by the regulator.

The highest number of accusations were made about about men and older doctors, according to the GMC report. Psychiatrists, GPs and surgeons also attracted the highest level of complaints compared with other specialities.

Almost three quarters of all complaints made were about male doctors and 47% were made about GPs. Grievances were mostly about treatment plans and investigation skills, but there was also a large number of objections about effective communication and respect for patients.

Niall Dickson, chief executive of the GMC, stressed that the rise in complaints does not mean necessarily that medical standards are falling. He said that a number of factors could contribute to the figure - including the fact that patients are now more willing to complain about discrepancies than they were in the past, patients have greater expectations of the doctors and within the profession there is less tolerance for poor practice.

He said: "We have been trying to understand why this number is going up, and we have a whole series of reasons why it may be. Firstly, there is better monitoring of medical practice. Secondly, doctors certainly are more willing to speak out and less willing to tolerate behaviour than they were a generation ago.

"Patient expectations are changing and they are more willing to complain. Allied to this is the digital age in which more information is available for patients. In some cases it may mean that local systems of complaints are not working so people are coming to us to complain when they could be dealt with at local level. And the profile of the GMC is greater - when we have high profile cases we tend to see more complaints after that."

Dr Mark Porter, chair of council at the British Medical Association, said: "It is a good thing that patients feel more empowered to raise their concerns, but it is important that there is further research to find out why there has been an increase and the nature of the complaints being made.

"Even though medical standards remain high and the number of complaints is very small, compared to the millions of consultations every year, we should always strive to find ways of improving the quality of care. It is essential that the new system of checking doctors' fitness to practice, known as revalidation, does protect patients while also being fair to doctors."

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