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Thursday, 8 February, 2001, 11:55 GMT
Complaints culture 'threatens medicine'
Doctors fear the complaints culture is counter-productive
Nine out of ten doctors fear that the growing complaints culture threatens the future of the NHS, a survey has found.

Many say they have already adopted a take-no-chances style of "defensive" medicine where patients may undergo a battery of tests for even the most trivial conditions simply to minimise the risk of ligitation.

Survey results:
42% of doctors had suffered a complaint or compensation claim against them in the last three years
One in ten had a complaint or claim by a patient pending against them
71% said they practised defensive medicine
More than nine out of ten said the compensation culture could affect the NHS's viability
The poll, by the doctors-only website, found that four out of 10 respondents have had a complaint or compensation claim made against them by a patient in the last three years.

Doctors do not think the rise in complaints reflects a drop in clinical standards.

More than two-thirds said clinical practice in the NHS was good or excellent, and one in three said standards had risen in the last five years.

Defensive medicine

There is no doubt that this climate is having an impact on the profession both in terms of clinical practice and morale

Dr Frances Szekely, Medical Defence Union
More than two-thirds of doctors said that they were now practising "defensive" medicine.

The poll, of more than 700 doctors, also found that the "compensation culture" is contributing to low morale and the recruitment difficulties within the health service.

The overwhelming majority of doctors say that patients have become more demanding in recent years.

More than a third believe the best way to reduce litigation levels is to increase the number of doctors and nurses in the health service.

But there is also widespread support for the establishment of a special authority to deal with compensation matters.

The Medical Defence Union, which commissioned the survey, paid out more than 77 million in compensation to patients during 1999.

At the moment, medical insurance experts such as the MDU deal with complaints and pay out compensation to patients.

Dr Frances Szekely, senior medical claims handler at the MDU, said: "The strength of feeling among the profession about rising litigation is clearly evident in the number of doctors who have taken the time to reply to this survey.

"There is no doubt that this climate is having an impact on the profession both in terms of clinical practice and morale."

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13 Dec 00 | Background Briefings
Protecting patients
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