COMPLAINTS about doctors have hit a record high, according to a new report from the General Medical Council.
The number of complaints increased by 23 per cent in a year, rising from 7,153 in 2010 to 8,781 in 2011. It continues a trend that has been rising since 2007.
Despite the figures, the GMC said this does not mean medical standards are falling.
The second annual State of Medical Education and Practice in the UK (SoMEP) report showed a significant rise in concerns about how doctors interacted with their patients. Allegations about communication went up 69 per cent while complaints about a lack of respect went up 45 per cent.
The report found GPs, psychiatrists and surgeons attracted the highest rates of complaints. Some 47 per cent of all complaints made were against GPs, who represented 24 per cent of those on the medical register.
Men, and in particular older male doctors, were also far more likely to be the subject of complaints than women. Doctors trained outside the UK and Europe were less likely to be complained about in middle age but more likely to face allegations when they were older.
As in the past, most complaints in the last year came from members of the public, although the GMC said many were not about matters which called into question the doctor’s fitness to practise. There was also a small rise in the number of complaints from medical directors and others in official positions.
The GMC said trends are in keeping with rising complaints across the NHS and, in particular, complaints about doctors. Their initial analysis suggests that greater expectations, an increased willingness to complain, less tolerance of poor practice within the profession as well as media attention for high profile cases may be behind the increase.
The regulator said the number of doctors falling seriously below the standards expected of them remains relatively small. Action was taken in more than 500 cases with advice given in a further 700. The names of 65 doctors were erased from the medical register last year while a further 93 were suspended.
GMC chief executive Niall Dickson said: “While we do need to develop a better understanding of why complaints to us are rising, we do not believe it reflects falling standards of medical practice. Every day there are millions of interactions between doctors and patients and all the evidence suggests that public trust and confidence in the UK’s doctors remains extremely high.”
He said a range of measures – including the launch of revalidation – were being introduced by the GMC in a bid to enhance patient safety and improve the quality of medical care.
Part of the package includes setting up a 15-strong team of employer liaison advisers who will offer support in managing concerns about doctors. A confidential hotline will also be launched later this year allowing doctors to raise patient safety concerns confidentially.