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Independents' Day

An unfair complaint and the stress it has caused

It was no surprise to receive the letter. As my patient had left the room, she had said: 'I'm going to get you for this.' And she is certainly making every attempt to do so, having made a complaint against me in the strongest terms.

It was an evening surgery in the practice in Brighton where I do four sessions a week. The young woman came in and told me she was six weeks pregnant. I asked her whether the pregnancy was a good or bad thing, and she said 'not good'. From my recollection I thought we then agreed on a termination. Throughout the consultation I was friendly and non-judgmental, even when she told me this was her sixth accidental pregnancy.

Then she wanted me to give her a note 'for the housing'. She was keen to investigate the possibility of being given her own accommodation. I could think of no form appropriate to her needs, and offered her the documentation of a hospital pregnancy test, but the result wasn't immediate enough for her, and at this stage she went ballistic.

The staff already knew about the consultation; I'd rushed upstairs as soon as the girl had gone and told them what she'd said. I just couldn't believe anyone could be that malicious. After surgery I went home to record my recollections and impressions before time altered them.

While the letter was no surprise, its contents were. They bore no resemblance at all to the consultation that I thought had occurred. The letter was totally damning, very believable and addressed straight to the GMC. My heart sank; had I really got it that wrong?

The facts were ignored, the management of the case unchallenged; what she complained about was my attitude. I could see no resemblance in the arrogant, judgmental, sanctimonious doctor that she portrayed to the person that I think I am.

I found it difficult to reply to the letter. I felt aggrieved. I knew that most of it was lies, and yet you're not allowed to say that, and have to settle for sentences like 'I am sorry that our recollections of the consultation do not exactly coincide', when what I wanted to say was 'Oi! Transfer your guilt somewhere else'.

Does that make me arrogant? No, it makes me human. I know just how carefully I trod in the situation loaded as it was. Was I patronising? Did I make assumptions? What could I have done differently? Should I just have acquiesced regarding the note? No, I did what I could for her, but it wasn't enough and now I must bear her wrath.

I have had help replying to the letter from a woman at the health authority but even she thinks this is likely to be pursued to the bitter end.

In the meantime, I have been trying to come up with strategies for keeping my emotions under control while I wait.

Colleagues have often told me that waiting for a complaint is very stressful ­ and it is. I get mood swings, sometimes feeling very indignant, sometimes feeling sorry for myself, and often trying to put myself in the woman's position to see if I really was in the wrong.

I am certainly buoyed up by the conviction that her letter is wrong and that I did everything I could have done. I am quite sure in my own mind what went on during the consultation and that this is pure malevolence.

I feel I have nothing to reproach myself for, whatever the powers that be may say. I await the next step, but wish that the GMC's logo read 'protecting doctors, advising patients', rather than the other way around.

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