Doctors urged to get help if a patient complains

Private doctors are being advised to seek support from their medical defence organisation as soon as they become aware of any potential complaint.

The advice from the Medical Defence Union (MDU) follows a surge in complaints cases against GPs in the NHS.

Latest figures on written complaints in the NHS in 2021-22 show a 37% increase in complaints against them, rising from 72,356 complaints in 2018-19 to 99,459 in 2021-22. 

In 2020-21, 72,087 complaints were recorded, but no data was collected in 2019-20 during the height of the pandemic.

The defence body this week urged all GPs to contact their defence body early if they suspected a complaint was in the offing, and re-iterated its advice to doctors in the private sector.

A spokesperson told Independent Practitioner Today: ‘Although the encouragement to get in touch with us early is driven by the NHS complaints figures, we would definitely echo that message for independent practitioners too. The sooner they get us involved, the quicker we can support them to hopefully resolve any complaint.’

Dr Catherine Wills, MDU deputy head of advisory services, added: ‘Complaints add to the workload and can cause huge worry and stress. We are here to help; we invite all our members to get in touch for advice and support whenever they need it. 

‘Our role is to lessen the burden, so members are encouraged to get our support early on as soon as they are aware of a potential complaint.’

According to the NHS data, the most common causes of complaints involving GP practices were communications (13.5%), clinical treatment (13.3%) and staff attitude/behaviour/values (12.6%).

The MDU’s complaints hub allows members to gain further advice on areas such as responding to a complaint:

Figures in the Independent Sector Complaints Adjudication Service annual report found a drop in complaints numbers in 2021-22, following a big increase in 2020-21. It noted: ‘The decrease in the total number of heads of complaint, back down towards 2019-20 levels, might suggest that 2020-21 was an exceptional year with the complexity of complaints.’