Complaints about doctors ‘double in five years’

The number of complaints against doctors in the UK has doubled in the past five years, figures show.

The data from the General Medical Council showed there were more than 8,100 complaints in 2012, compared with just under 4,000 in 2007.

About a third of complaints led to a full investigation by the regulator.

But doctors’ leaders said the figures still represented a small proportion of the amount of care given in the NHS – there are 250,000 doctors in the UK.

Nonetheless, the rise in complaints – and the subsequent investigations – are still causing concern.

Sanctions and warnings

The upward trend has happened during a period when there has been mounting concern about NHS care following the Stafford Hospital scandal.

And research released last week by the patient watchdog Healthwatch England suggested that, if anything, problems were going unreported.

Its survey showed half of those who had experienced a problem failed to report it.

Healthwatch England chairwoman Anna Bradley said: “We all have a right to safe, dignified and high-quality care.”

Of the 8,109 complaints made last year, 2,673 were taken forward for an official investigation.

A total of 179 sanctions and warnings have already been made, while nearly 900 cases remain open.

The GMC said it was important to learn from the trend, but the regulator believes there may be an issue with patients not knowing to whom they should direct their complaints.

The majority of complaints – nearly two-thirds – came from patients, but just a fifth were deemed within the GMC’s scope to follow up.

GMC chairman Prof Sir Peter Rubin said: “Overall the standard of care that patients receive in the UK is good and doctors continue to deserve the trust and respect of the public.

“What our report shows is that some patients don’t know where to go to raise a concern about their treatment and more needs to be done to help them raise issues.”

British Medical Association leader Dr Mark Porter added: “It is encouraging that the number of overall complaints is very small given the hundreds of thousands of appointments, operations and other patient interactions that occur every day in the NHS.”