GPs face added stress as complaints procedures 'plagued by delays'

GPs facing official complaints are being subject to added stress due to 'unacceptable' delays as handling processes are bundled out to out of area centres, leading GPs and MPs have warned.

Dr Vautrey: 'It is unhelpful when complaints are not dealt with in a timely manner.' Pic: Jason Heath Lancy
Dr Vautrey: 'It is unhelpful when complaints are not dealt with in a timely manner.' Pic: Jason Heath Lancy

In its Complaints and Raising Concerns report, the House of Commons' health select committee took issue with NHS England directing local complaints to areas across the country to handle GP complaints.

The organisation's convoluted processes and push towards centralised complaint handling is resulting in ‘confusion, dissatisfaction and unacceptable delays’ for GPs and patients, it warned.

It noted one 'concerning' example of how primary care complaints made in Devon and Cornwall were shuffled on to a call centre in Leeds before eventually being dealt with by a commissioning support unit in northwest London.

Negative consequences

Leading GPs have warned that the long waits could also add to the anxiety and stress for GPs involved in complaints procedures, which is impacting both their health and that of their patients.

In response to the committee’s concerns, NHS England accepted that the process could be improved, admitting that it initially did not have sufficient capacity to handle the complaints, leading to some being directed to other areas of the country.

But it maintained that a centralised approach was 'beneficial and appropriate in certain circumstances’.

Neil Churchill, NHS England’s director for improving patient experience, said: ‘We are certainly open to ideas about how we can organise our complaints handling differently if this will benefit patients. However, this will need to be in the context of the further 15% cut in our running costs from next April, which will inevitably mean reductions in the number of staff in our local teams.’

Complaints should be kept local

GPC deputy chairman Dr Richard Vautrey said complaints procedures should be undertaken locally 'wherever possible'.

He said: ‘It is unhelpful when complaints are not dealt with in a timely and appropriate manner, and in a way that understands the local context. You need that local understanding to respond appropriately to a patient's concern.

‘It can be hugely unsettling for any GP who is involved in a complaint – it’s an unpleasant experience.

‘Complaints should be dealt with at the most local level wherever possible, which is the practice’s complaint system. If complaints are not handled by the practice appropriately then there clearly needs to be another tier, but that also needs to be as local as possible.’

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