GMC likely to investigate one in 64 doctors as complaints hit new record

Complaints against doctors have soared to record high, with almost 9,000 grievances lodged last year.

Complaints against doctors have soared to record high, with almost 9,000 grievances lodged last year.

One in every 64 doctors is likely to be investigated by the medical watchdog the General Medical Council (GMC), it emerged today.

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There were 8,781 complaints made in 2011, compared with 7,153 the previous year, a 23 per cent increase, the UK-wide figures suggest. The highest number of accusations were made about men and older doctors, according to the GMC report.

The Scottish Government said that recent legislation meant patients rights are more “widely understood and used”, but Labour said swingeing cuts to nursing numbers has led to an increased workload for doctors. 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 per cent were made about GPs.

Grievances were mostly about treatment plans and investigation skills, but there was also a large number of objections about communication and respect for patients.

Scottish Labour health spokeswoman Jackie Baillie said: “It is not completely surprising if complaints have risen, given that the SNP has cut 5,500 NHS staff, of which over half were nurses and midwives, meaning that many doctors are over worked and under supported.”

Scottish Conservative health spokesman Jackson Carlaw said the rise was “unsurprising”, given the recent “rush” to take industrial action over pensions.

He added: “The most important thing is that these grievances are sorted out quickly and efficiently, an approach that is in everyone’s interests.”

The number of allegations about doctors’ communicating skills have risen by 69 per cent in the past year and complaints about lack of respect rose by 45 per cent.

The GMC, which oversees doctors practising medicine in the UK, said that the rising of objections has increased around the globe and not just in the UK.

A Scottish Government spokeswoman said the Patients Rights Act, introduced this year, has given people a greater understanding of their ability to make a complaint.

She added: “We want all patients to be confident that they will get the best possible care and treatment from the NHS in Scotland and where improvements can be made, it’s vital that lessons are learned quickly.”

GMC chief executive Niall Dickson said that a number of factors might be contributing to the figure, including the fact that patients are now more willing to complain about discrepancies than they were in the past. “I think more complaints does not necessarily mean worse care,” he said.

Dr Mark Porter, chair of council at the British Medical Association, said it is positive that patients feel confident about lodging their concerns through official channels.

“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,” he said.