Patient complaints top concern for doctors

PATIENT complaints were the big issue for doctors who contacted MDDUS for advice in 2011.

New figures show more than a fifth of all medico-legal contacts were from doctors seeking advice on this topic. The trend highlights a greater awareness amongst doctors of the need to be proactive and respond swiftly to patient concerns.

For the sixth successive year, medical defence organisation MDDUS has seen a rise in the number of calls from members looking for advice on medico-legal matters.

The team of medical advisers at UK-wide MDDUS handled a record total of contacts from those seeking help in 2011, up more than five per cent on the previous year.

Members contacted MDDUS via telephone, letter or email for advice on a vast range of issues from ethical dilemmas in clinical practice to GMC matters. Patient complaints accounted for the most common reason for members to get in touch (22 per cent of all contacts), with nine per cent of enquiries regarding confidentiality and seven per cent relating to claims for compensation.

While a steady growth in MDDUS membership throughout the UK partly explains the rise in calls, MDDUS medical adviser Dr Barry Parker pointed to other trends in the last year. He said: “There is a greater awareness amongst doctors that they should seek advice at the earliest possible opportunity.

“One area where we are noticing a growing number of calls is in relation to raising concerns about professional colleagues, an issue that has been the subject of recent detailed guidance provided by the General Medical Council.

“In addition, there have been a large number of enquiries relating to disclosure of information in potential child abuse cases, another topic that has been the focus of a GMC consultation process.”

General practice is becoming more regulated and this is directly reflected in requests for advice. Dr Parker added: “Doctors appear to be more risk aware and proactive in dealing with potential problems.

“Our members – wherever they are based in the UK – are offered rapid access to ethical advice. I think they find our service very approachable and as a result are comfortable about contacting us again in the future.”

MDDUS’ employment law service has also gone from strength to strength, with an increase in call levels. The service is now in its second year and continues to receive excellent feedback from members, grateful for the level of support they receive.

MDDUS is the only defence organisation to provide members who have employment responsibilities with access to a specialised in-house team who deal only with medical and dental practices and give advice and guidance on HR and employment law matters.

MDDUS employment law adviser Janice Sibbald said: “We have seen an increase in calls from members, with the most popular topics of advice being contractual issues, managing long and short-term absence and managing performance issues.”

The employment law team have dealt with an increase in requests for advice over the 12-month period of which 81 per cent were medical and a fifth dental. Of these calls, 60 per cent were from practices in Scotland, with 40 per cent from the rest of the UK.

Ms Sibbald added: “As well as offering advice to members, we provide training and present at conferences to help ensure members are up-to-date with the latest employment law issues. We are also able to provide factsheets and template contracts and policies to support practices with their day-to-day issues.”