Last year there was a 23% increase in the number of complaints the GMC received about doctors practising in the UK, a new report has revealed. The GMC received 8,781 complaints against doctors in 2011, compared with 7,153 in 2010.
By specialty, GPs were the subject of the highest proportion of complaints (47%), although this was lower than in 2010 when 50% of complaints were about GPs.
One factor contributing to the overall increase in complaints may be the introduction of responsible officers (ROs), who will play a key role in revalidation, the GMC said. ROs will make a recommendation to the GMC on whether a doctor should be revalidated. In most cases responsible officers are the medical director within an organisation such as a PCT.
GMC chief executive Niall Dickson said: ‘The system of medical directors in the health service has advanced significantly and the introduction of ROs under revalidation has taken that further, to where the degree of responsibility understood and accepted by employers for the quality of medical practice in their organisations has increased markedly.’
‘Ahead of revalidation it may well be that ROs and medical directors are checking that all is well and are going more systematically through their doctors and, where they have some concerns, they are referring to us,’ he added.
Asked whether revalidation would reduce complaints about doctors in the long term, Mr Dickson said: ‘The short answer is we don’t know - we can’t be certain.
'We’re not sure of the extent to which the prospect of revalidation may well be driving some of what we are seeing here. People are saying: "I am now responsible for this group of doctors. I’m going through each of them and there might be something here. We’ve managed it for a while but I think this may need a referral to the GMC."
'So before revalidation comes in there are some signs that there is a bit of activity going on as a result of that. When [revalidation] comes in, in the longer term we very much hope that it will reduce the pressure on the system because people will be identifying concerns earlier.’
GPC negotiator and GMC performance assessor Dr Dean Marshall said he had heard anecdotal evidence of PCTs referring more GPs to the GMC, rather than ROs, in the run up to revalidation
‘PCTs are coming to the end of their time and there is a feeling among some people that they are viewing this as an opportunity to settle some old scores,' he said. ‘It’s also felt that leading up to revalidation PCTs are perhaps dealing with ongoing issues they haven’t dealt with before.'
Dr Marshall said that he was not surprised that, overall, GPs received more complaints than other specialties. ‘We have by far the most contact with a varied range of patients,’ he said.
Responding to the report, NHS Confederation chief executive Mike Farrar said: ‘Patient feedback is an invaluable part of improving care. It is essential doctors listen to their patients' experiences - good and bad - to improve professionally. And it is crucial that the right systems are in place to learn from occasions where things go wrong.’
Health minister Dr Dan Poulter 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 and complaints to the GMC are not always directly related quality of front line patient care.’