News and Events

Complaints about doctors rise by 23%

View profile for Judith Thomas-Whittingham
  • Posted
  • Author

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

The report from the GMC said that in 2011 there were 8,781 complaints compared to 7,153 in 2010.
This increase is similar to the increase the year before and continues a trend which has seen complaints about doctors increase by 69% in three years.

Despite this evidence the regulator was quick to defend the increase saying that there was no evidence to suggest care was getting worse.  Instead, it claimed the increase was due to greater expectations by patients and their willingness to complain.

The report shows that 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.

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.

The report from the General Medical Council follows a similar report from the Medical Defence Union (MDU) last month. Their annual report said that claims in general practice alone have risen 10% in 2011. Chris Evans, Chairman of the mutual organisation, which indemnifies clinicians against claims, said the rise in legal action was unmatched in the company’s 126 year history.  Jill Harding, head of claims for the MDU denied that clinicians were to blame, saying, “The increase in claim numbers is not, we believe, driven by deteriorating standards of care, or a change in the underlying type of incidents that are giving rise to claims.”

Although the MDU’s figures show a 10% increase in claims last year, this is against the backdrop of an 8% increase in the number of patient safety incidents recorded by the National Patient Safety Agency (NPSA). In addition, the MDU’s own figures show a 56% increase in disciplinary cases and an 18% increase in General Medical Council investigations. It is therefore difficult to see why the MDU has ruled out the possibility of diminishing standards as a potential explanation for the increase in claims.

By clinical negligence solicitor and associate, Jamie Cruickshanks