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The BBC's Daniel Sandford
"The huge pressure doctors find themselves under in the NHS could be to blame"
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Dr Trevor Pickersgill, BMA
"Everyone is complaining"
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Thursday, 15 February, 2001, 09:51 GMT
Complaints about doctors soar
The GMC is struggling under record numbers of complaints
The number of people complaining about doctors to the General Medical Council is still rising fast.

But experts say this probably represents the increasing "culture of complaint" rather than a serious increase in the number of mistakes or other wrongdoings by doctors.

We have a more consumerist society. People are complaining more about everything.

Dr Trevor Pickersgill, BMA
A total of 4,470 complaints were sent to the GMC for investigation last year - a rate of 86 a week.

This reflects a steadily rising trend across the past decade. In 1999 the GMC recieved 58 complaints a week, and in 1995 the figure was just 19 a week.

Many are sent on to the separate NHS complaints system, as they concern issues such as waiting times rather than individual doctors.

It is not yet known how many of the complaints will be upheld.

The GMC is planning substantial reforms to try to win back public confidence in the wake of damaging high-profile cases.

Streamlining complaints

It is also trying to find ways to speed up the complaints process, which at present can stretch over years.

A spokesman for the GMC said: "Because we dealt with several big cases last year more members of the public know about us and take grievances to us.

"However, the majority of cases we receive fall outside our remit and are normally taken up by other parts of the NHS."

Despite this, leading doctors say that the soaring level of complaint is leaving the profession demoralised.

Last year saw a steep fall in the number of students applying to become doctors, at a time when the government is urgently trying to boost the numbers entering the NHS.

GMC Chairman Sir Donald Irvine has promised reform
Dr Trevor Pickersgill, chairman of the British Medical Association's Junior Doctors' Committee, told the BBC: "We have a more consumerist society. People are complaining more about everything.

"There is a lot of doctor-bashing in the press - but we are still one of the most respected professions."

The rising tide of complaints, both to the GMC, which should involve either the conduct or performance of doctors, and to the general NHS complaints system, is unlikely to be stemmed by recent publicity into medical mistakes, such as the fatal injection of a cancer drug into the spine of a Nottingham patient.

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See also:

15 Feb 01 | Health
Medical accidents - unstoppable?
31 Jan 00 | Health
GMC: Public confidence is damaged
02 Mar 00 | Health
Doctors turn on the GMC
24 Mar 00 | Health
Life bans for danger doctors
22 May 00 | Health
Swifter discipline for doctors
11 May 00 | Health
BMA: Speed up complaints
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