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Complaints caseload is set to surge

Changes to the NHS complaints system starting next month will lead to a 40 per cent rise in cases going to independent review, according to the body taking over the process.

Minutes released by the Healthcare Commission reveal it is 'geared up' to handle 5,000 complaints a year against doctors from July.

The figure compares with an average of 3,500 over the last four years.

The commission said it expected more complainants to request independent review – the second stage of the process – because they would see it as 'more independent' than the current local system.

GPs and medical defence bodies have attacked the changes, arguing the vast majority of cases are dealt with through local resolution and predicting an increase in vexatious complaints.

Dr Kailash Chand, secretary of West Pennine LMC, said taking the independent review stage away from local complaints convenors would 'give oxygen to the blame culture'. He said: 'There was no need for this as so many complaints are resolved locally.'

West Pennine is one of six LMCs proposing motions to the LMC conference against changes to the procedure.

Dr Mark Dudley, medico-legal adviser at the Medical Protection Society, said a jump in the number of cases going to independent review would increase the strain on doctors: 'Investigations are a very stressful process and complaints smack at the heart of what doctors are about.'

A spokeswoman for the Healthcare Commission denied there would be a rise in 'opportunistic' complaints. 'Where a case has no substance we will turn it down, it won't be investigated and clinicians won't get involved,' she said.

She added that the commission can give clinicians a 'better deal' through a more consistent approach than localised independent reviews.

•The Shipman Inquiry is expected to recommend changes to local resolution of complaints when it reports later this year.

By Ian Cameron

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