GPs Rude, dishonest and hard to understand: Patients' verdict as complaints rise by 24%
Complaints have soared by 69% in three yearsOlder male doctors were most likely to be the subject of complaints Female doctors may soon outnumber men, which could lead to more working part-time when raising families
08:28 GMT, 18 September 2012
Complaints against doctors have hit a record high with patients increasingly saying they are being ignored, shown no respect or lied to.
Figures from the General Medical Council reveal that GPs are the cause of nearly half of all grievances, even though they comprise only a quarter of all doctors.
It said doctors who had gained their medical qualifications abroad – as well as older medics who trained in Britain – were more prone to being accused of poor communication.
Patients are complaining in greater numbers about a lack of clear communication from GPs
Last year 8,781 complaints were made against all types of doctors, up by 24 per cent in just 12 months.
GPs, psychiatrists and surgeons attracted the highest rates of
complaints – particularly older male doctors.
The GMC insists there is no evidence the standard of medical care is falling, however, and instead put the increase down to patients becoming less tolerant.
But it points to a particularly steep rise in complaints about ‘communication’ which includes doctors not listening to patients or not properly explaining their illness or treatment.
In the past 12 months the number of such complaints rose by 69 per cent to 789 – the biggest increase across all categories.
According to the watchdog, doctors who qualified in Britain 30 or
40 years ago may not have been told to ensure their patients understood
what they were saying.
Also doctors from foreign countries with different healthcare systems may never have been properly taught to talk and listen to patients.
Last year a GMC study found foreign-trained doctors were four times as likely to be suspended or struck off.
Complaints against GPs have hit a record high
In 2010 Dr Daniel Ubani, who was trained in Germany, was banned from practising in Britain. It came two years after he accidentally killed patient David Gray, 70, on his first shift by injecting him with 10 times the recommended dose of a painkiller.
There has also been a steep rise in complaints about respect – including rudeness, dishonesty and a lack of dignity – up by 45 per cent to 642 last year.
Niall Dickson, of the GMC, said: ‘More complaints does not necessarily mean worse care. Indeed the evidence is actually about rising levels of satisfaction with medical care across the country.
‘We have been trying to understand why this number is going up, and we have a whole series of reasons why it may be. Patient expectations are changing and they are more willing to complain.’
But Mike Farrar, of the NHS Confederation, said: ‘We must keep a careful eye on these complaints.
‘A rise may partly be a result of patients, rightly, being more assertive in voicing dissatisfaction about their care, or it may be something more substantial. Employers and individual doctors need to analyse this data and look carefully at the cases where doctors have not met the standards patients expect, and what action they need to take when they fall short.’
Nearly two thirds of the complaints were made by patients with the remainder lodged by other doctors, medical staff and even the police.
The GMC investigates each case and the most serious are referred to its fitness to practise panels, which can lead to a doctor being struck off.
Some 47 per cent of all complaints made last year concerned GPs.
Dan Poulter, Coalition health minister, said: ‘The GMC is rightly taking steps to better understand and deal with an increase in complaints, but it is important to reassure people that this does not mean that medical standards are falling.’
Of the 8,781 complaints lodged in 2011 a total of 2,330 were investigated fully. Only 158 of these have led to doctors being suspended or struck from the
medical register. Most ended with warnings or advice given.
Dr Catherine Wills, medico-legal adviser at the Medical Defence Union said: 'While the rise in complaints to the GMC will be concerning for doctors and patients alike, it is worth remembering that very few complaints result in action being taken against the doctor’s registration.'
The GMC also said there female doctors
could outnumber male doctors within five years as more women than men
were graduating from medical school. Female doctors are more likely to
work part-time as they take career breaks to raise families.
The Council warned this could present
'significant challenges' to the profession as more doctors would be
needed to plug gaps in care.
Prof Sir Peter Rubin, chairman of the GMC, said they would need to start 'planning for a majority of the workforce who will spend a period of their career working part-time, and will then come back full-time.'