The figures show a 2 per cent decrease in written complaints across family health services, from 43,349 in 2005/6 to 42,592 in 2006/7.
There was a marked drop in the number of medical complaints against GPs and other non-dental health professionals, falling from 30,110 in 2005/6 to 27,592 by 8 per cent in 2006/7. This is in contrast to complaints about dental services, which rose from 6,997 to 7,739 over the same period.
Dr Peter Schutte, head of advisory services at the Medical Defence Union, said the drop in medical complaints showed the positive impact of changes made by GPs in dealing with complaints over the past decade.
'What happened before was the whole system of complaints was adversarial', he said. 'Changes have taken place over the past decade which have much more emphasis on conciliation and have seen GPs get better at dealing with complaints and communication, and when necessary apologise. All this means the need for patients to take their grievances further is avoided.
Another factor is an increase in the so-called 'blame culture', which 'has made everyone across all services, not just health, see the importance of sorting out problems before they escalate,' added Dr Schutte.
Although the number of medical complaints has reduced, grievances concerning practice administration, such as receptionists, have rocketed from 4,779 to 6,420 (34 per cent) during the same period.
Dr James Gillgrass, chief executive of Surrey and Sussex LMCs and a GPC member, said that teething problems surrounding new initiatives, such as Choose and Book, may be a factor.
He added that even though the number of complaints about administration had increased, the numbers were still low, 'when you consider there are around 8,000 practices'.