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Monday, June 15, 1998 Published at 10:06 GMT 11:06 UK

Health: Latest News

GP complaints double

Complaints against GPs have doubled in a year

The number of complaints against GPs has doubled in the last year.

According to the Medical Defence Union, 1,194 people made an official complaint against their GP in 1997 - compared with just 557 the previous year when the new complaints procedure was introduced.

Most people complained about failures or delays in diagnosing conditions such as meningitis and coronary heart disease.

There was also a 3% increase in the number of complaints about the attitude of doctors and staff - up from 10% to 13%.

Struck off

And, for the first time, there was a rise in the amount of patients complaining that they had been unfairly struck off their doctor's register.

The majority of complaints - 92% - were resolved at a local level, without having to be referred on to the health service ombudsman.

The Medical Defence Union blamed communication failtures for many of the complaints.

Dr Stephen Green, head of risk management services, said: "Problems often arise from misunderstandings between doctors and patients during consultations or between the doctor and practice staff.

"For example, a patient failing to return to see a GP for a follow-up or a test result being filed without review."

Too rights conscious

Joyce Robins of the Patients' Association said the rise in complaints showed that the new complaints procedure was working. "It does not necessarily mean that things have got much worse," she said.

[ image: Patients have more rights]
Patients have more rights
"People are beginning to realise their rights and are complaining, although perhaps doctors would argue that they are getting a bit too rights conscious."

She said one in four people who called the association's helpine were complaining about doctors. Most calls were about doctors' attitudes. "Some do not treat patients as equals," she said.

She added that the association was also receiving at least one call a week from patients who had been struck off their GP's register. She said some thought they had been struck off because they needed expensive treatment.

Second class

Once struck off, they are given a new GP for at least three months. "They are labelled as difficult patients and treated like second class citizens," said Ms Robbins. "It is scandalous that they are not given any reason why they have been struck off and have no way of challenging their GP's decision."

Around 80,000 people a year are struck off GP registers.

The British Medical Association said the figures showed that the new complaints system was working.

It was pleased that most complaints were being dealt with at a local level, but urged doctors to explain, wherever possible, a decision to strike a patient off their register.

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