The GMC's annual State of Medical Education and Practice report shows that one in 20 (5%) GPs were complained about in 2015, slightly more than the average for all doctors at 3%.
However, GPs have the lowest proportion of complaints investigated, coming in at just over a quarter (27%) resulting in GMC action. For doctors overall, 32% of complaints were investigated.
The GMC said the fall in the number of investigations was a result of the council overhauling its initial triaging process, which it said enabled it to more accurately judge which inquiries merited a full investigation.
Three quarters (76%) of complaints made against GPs came from members of the public, compared to two thirds (66%) of complaints against specialists who were twice as likely as GPs to be flagged up by other doctors.
Outcomes of investigations remained at a similar level to previous years, with 69% closed with no further action, 14% closed with advice given to the doctor, 5% leading to official warnings, 6% resulting in conditions or undertakings and 7% leading to suspension or erasure.
The report also revealed that the regulator had received 8,269 complaints in 2015, 7% less than the number of complaints it received in 2014.
Dr Pallavi Bradshaw, senior medicolegal adviser at Medical Protection said: ‘A significant amount of GMC investigations into doctors – around two thirds – are closed without action. On the surface this may appear positive, however it raises serious questions over why and how these cases are able to proceed to a full investigation.
‘We support doctors day-in, day-out when faced with a GMC investigation so are aware of the immense impact it can have. In our survey of 180 doctors investigated by the GMC over five years, 93% said it had impacted on their stress and anxiety.
‘The complaints triage process must be improved as a priority so the focus shifts away from investigations that are unnecessary, and the threshold for opening an investigation should be reviewed. We welcome GMC’s recognition that improvements are needed in a number of areas.’