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Doctors are being urged to seek support early on if they are aware of a potential complaint.

All doctors are likely to face a complaint at some point in their career, but it is feared the pandemic may result in an influx of patient complaints resulting from issues such as delays in diagnosis, treatment and referrals.

Dr Caroline Fryar, head of advisory services at the Medical Defence Union (MDU), said this was of particular concern, as many complaints had the potential to become claims for compensation in the years ahead, which was worrying for many doctors. 

‘Consequently, the stress of dealing with complaints and claims far into the future could push many doctors to breaking point.’

She was speaking as the MDU revealed results of a survey of 741 doctors in partnership with the Healthcare Leadership Academy.

Among the 40% who were GPs, nearly half of complaints were made within the last five years and a similar percentage were related to an alleged delayed or missed diagnosis. But 40% of complaints were resolved locally within the individual’s own clinical team. 

GPs stated that the commonest reasons for a patient complaint included increased waiting times for treatments, delays in accessing screening and tests, communication difficulties and consulting with patients online.

In the last year, consultants were the most likely to face a complaint due to treatment complications (30%) compared to 5% of GPs.