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EDITIONS
 Thursday, 9 January, 2003, 03:10 GMT
Complaints against doctors soar
Most complaints related to clinical care
Complaints against doctors to the General Medical Council have soared over the past 11 years, a report shows.

Figures released by the Medical Defence Union show complaints involving its members have increased almost 15-fold since 1990. Overall, complaints are rising by 33% annually.

Officials at the MDU - the largest provider of medical indemnity in the UK - said the rise reflected the fact that patients were now more willing to report doctors to the GMC.

We've no reason to think this is due to a decline in standards in the medical profession

Dr Patrick Hoyte, MDU
They said there was no evidence to suggest the increase was due to a decline in standards in the medical profession.

The report shows that in 1990 the MDU helped 36 doctors who were the subject of GMC complaints. Two of these were found guilty of serious professional misconduct.

By 2000, the MDU was helping 452 doctors who had been the subject of complaints. A total of 26 of these were found guilty of serious professional misconduct.

The report reveals that a growing number of complaints involving MDU members relate to aspects of clinical care.

In 1990, just 25% of complaints related to clinical care. By 2000, that had increased to 80%.

One complaint about clinical care featured a doctor who over-prescribed an epileptic drug, which led to the patient's condition worsening.

In this case the GMC drew the doctor's attention to its advice about the need to exercise caution when prescribing medication.

Another case involved a doctor who, while attempting to drain fluid from a patient's lung, did so on the wrong side and the person died.

The doctor was found guilty of serious professional misconduct and had conditions imposed on his practice.

A third case involved a doctor who video recorded a consultation without the patient's consent.

The doctor was reprimanded after being found guilty of serious professional misconduct.

Most resolved

According to the MDU, the vast majority of complaints made by patients are resolved at a very early stage and are not referred to the GMC's disciplinary committees.

"We found that most GMC complaints, over 80%, were resolved without a full hearing and many with just an exchange of correspondence between doctor and patient", said Dr Patrick Hoyte, author of the report.

He suggested that many of the complaints should not have been referred to the GMC in the first place.

"It's a shame that some of these complaints couldn't be resolved without involving the GMC at all, perhaps through the NHS complaints procedure, so avoiding a lot of stress for doctors and patients."

Dr Hoyte said the increase in complaints reflected growing awareness among patients.

"We've no reason to think this is due to a decline in standards in the medical profession.

"Rather that patients are more aware of their rights and, quite properly, more willing to complain if they are not satisfied with their treatment."

See also:

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11 Oct 00 | Health
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