15:00 18 September 2012
The General Medical Council has confirmed that the number of complaints lodged against doctors in the UK has soared to a record high.
The numbers have been rising since 2009 and in the last year alone there was a massive 23% rise, according to the figures.
The GMC revealed that 8,781 complaints were filed last year. 2010 saw 7,153.
Put another way, one out of every 64 doctors in the nation is likely to be investigated.
The complaints peak when taking certain factors into account. Men and older doctors attract the most complaints while it was the psychiatrists, surgeons and GPs who rated highest for complaints when compared with other areas of expertise.
Nearly 75% of the complaints were about men and nearly half were linked to GPs.
Investigation skills and treatment plans drew the most scorn as others complained about levels of effective communication and respect for patients.
Not convinced that standards were falling but rather that the industry is less tolerant for poor service and more likely to file issues, Niall Dickson, chief executive of the GMC, attempted to address the reasons behind the findings.
Dickson 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.
“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.”
Responding to the claims, 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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