GPs face hundreds of complaints over shielding and PPE during pandemic

GP practices have faced hundreds of complaints over issues including shielding and personal protective equipment (PPE) during the COVID-19 pandemic, data from a medico-legal organisation reveal.

PPE has triggered complaints (Photo: alvarez/Getty Images)
PPE has triggered complaints (Photo: alvarez/Getty Images)

Figures reported by the Medical Defence Union (MDU) show that its members have reported 'well over 300 complaints since lockdown began on 23 March' - a figure the organisation says is merely 'the tip of the iceberg'.

Complaints from patients have dropped during the pandemic, the MDU says - but not as sharply as it had anticipated. Practices have faced complaints from patients 'unhappy about aspects of the shielding process' and about concerns relating to PPE, among other factors.

GP leaders said many of the complaints were being driven by factors outside of practices' control - with many practices still unable to refer as normal while hospitals remain focused on coronavirus and forced to deliver services in radically different ways to limit risk to patients.

GP complaints

Complaint have also centred on access to prescriptions for non-essential medication, a lack of face-to-face access to doctors to discuss minor existing conditions, dissatisfaction with phone consultations and concerns that PPE 'made communication difficult, was not worn or was inadequate'.

BMA GP committee chair Dr Richard Vautrey said: 'GPs and their teams absolutely understand the difficulties that COVID-19 has created within the healthcare system, as staff across the NHS find new ways of working and making sure that patients are still able to receive safe, high-quality care.

'Much of what these complaints refer to are largely outside of practices’ control, such as the inability to refer a patient as they may want, wearing PPE during face-to-face consultations, using more technology to see patients remotely, or restrictions on prescribing for minor ailments, which is an NHSEI and CCG initiative.

'GPs and their teams will always strive to make sure patients are aware of this, and the vast majority of those are welcoming and understanding of these necessary changes within the current system. Most importantly, however, we continue to make sure that, despite the difficulties they may sometimes pose, patients still have access to the safe care and treatment they need and deserve.'

COVID-19 pandemic

MDU head of advisory services Dr Caroline Fryar said: ‘We’re really surprised about how many complaints about the pandemic our members have asked for our support with and the types of issues being raised during this short period.

'Complaints numbers are a little down on what we’d normally see, but we expected a bigger drop. During the COVID-19 pandemic, most doctors are under extreme pressure and for many their working circumstances are far from ideal.

‘We are concerned about the additional pressures on our members at a time of extraordinary upheaval when it’s far from business as usual.'

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