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Double blow to GPs' plans

Government reforms have plunged the NHS complaints system into chaos, forcing GPs into agonising waits to have even trivial cases against them resolved.

The Healthcare Commission revealed this week that complaints being escalated to independent review have trebled since it took over the second stage of the process last year.

It blamed PCTs for failing to deal with complaints locally and said more than 60 per cent of cases should never have been referred.

The commission said it expected to deal with 9,000 complaints against all NHS staff this year ­ up from just 3,000 in 2003 and almost double the 5,000 cases it was expecting.

But only 525 of 4,500 complaints since last July have been closed, leaving a backlog of almost 4,000.

Some 22 per cent of cases since the commission took over have been against GPs, down from around a third in previous years.

Dr Hamish Meldrum, GPC chair, said the vast majority

of cases should be dealt with locally.

'But there seems to be some people in trusts who are nervous and feel the need to pass the buck.' He added: 'Delays are not helpful to either patients or doctors.'

Dr Chand Nagpaul, a GPC member and a clinical assessor in the London area, said trusts did not try to handle cases locally if patients asked for independent review.

He said: 'There needs to be firmer direction from Government to encourage local resolution.'

The Healthcare Commission has been forced to bring in complaints-handling firm Huntswood Outsourcing to deal with around 2,000 'low-risk' cases, at a cost of around £1 million.

The commission also accused PCTs of stockpiling complaints while waiting for it to take over the process and said it planned to name and shame trusts with poor complaints procedures next year.

An spokesman for the NHS Confederation said PCTs had to give complainants the option of an independent review.

He added it was unclear what proportion of complaints were referred wrongly to the commission by patients, 'who were less used to the system'.

By Joe Lepper

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