Editorial: Handle patient complaints about GPs with care

GPs who have faced a formal patient complaint will understand just how stressful the process can be.

It can have an adverse affect on the GP's health, work and family. The story of Dr D, while an extreme example, shows that such experiences can limit or even end careers.

The Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman, who investigated Dr D's case, charts a series of oversights and administrative errors in the PCTs' handling of the patient complaint.

She says the PCTs' investigation 'lacked perspective and proportionality' and was driven 'purely by process' with an 'absence of leadership'. The complaint's maladministration contributed to a change in Dr D's pre-existing psychiatric condition, which ultimately led to her retirement.

Now, five-and-a-half years after she left general practice because of ill health, Dr D is struggling to return to work because the GPs' returners scheme has effectively ceased and funding is awarded on a discretionary basis by deaneries or PCTs.

The circumstances in this case are unique, but the damage a poorly handled patient complaint can wreak is not.

Every day GPs across the country have thousands of interactions with patients. Not every patient leaves the surgery happy and some will complain.

Many GPs will be at the receiving end of a patient complaint at some point in their career. But what every doctor hopes is that the PCT involved will deal with the complaint even-handedly, and that appropriate systems are in place to ensure the process is effective, efficient and fair.

Of course, patients should be entitled to complain, and it is important that practices, trusts or the NHS can learn from the outcomes. But when individuals are singled out the system must recognise the huge stress this places them under and provide support. Administration must be robust and transparent and not add to the anxiety.

What happened to Dr D is nothing short of a tragedy and something no other GP should have to go through.

More opinion online

Read more opinion from the GP editorial team in the editor's blog at www.healthcarerepublic.com/blogs. This is what the team had to say this week

"Government refuses to downgrade ecstasy This is more evidence of the government listening to its advisers when it suits - and ignoring them, or even slating them, when it doesn't. Which is nice."

"DoH push ballroom dancing in fitness campaign Embracing Strictly Come Dancing is a great idea. Although it does seem a little odd that while health professionals can't pray for patients, they can prescribe a life of Lycra, glitter and lunges."

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