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GPs go forth

Giving complaints the cold shoulder

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Okay, that’s enough, folks. By ‘folks’, I mean axe-grinding punters. Time to grind my own axe and start chopping.

I say this because, just this week, I’ve had two complaints. You can tell by the end of the first paragraph of Complaint #1 that this is a serial complainer who derives immense pleasure from the process, in the same way that some people enjoy pulling the wings off insects. I won’t lose sleep over that one.

Whereas Complaint #2 is a more formal threat to, I quote, ‘sue me for every penny I’ve got’ (ha!) because of a ‘failure to refer, causing suffering’. Which is partly wrong because I did refer, promptly and appropriately, but partly right because, yes, I am suffering.

This is becoming the norm. These days, I spend more time fending off complaints than I do patients. It’s time to strike back.

So here’s an idea. Patients who make an ‘official’ complaint about their GP should immediately be removed from that practice’s list. To complain about a GP is to forfeit the right to continue under their practice’s care.

Now, I realise that drum-bangers might have issues with this. They might say that a) Patients may complain simply ‘to get an explanation’ about a perceived problem. Or b) Patients are often just after ‘an apology’. Or c) Complaints are an opportunity to improve services.

Bollocks. Specifically:

a) Don’t call these complaints; call them information requests.

b) Saying I’m sorry that something happened is true, but unnecessary – unless I’m at fault, which is what such requests are trying to imply.

c) The sentence: ‘Complaints are an opportunity to improve services’ can only be uttered without a projectile vomit by those who are woolly brained/clad, and have never provided those services in their lives. My experience is that, actually, most complaints are an opportunity for the punters to be petty, vindictive or compensation-seeking.

Besides, given the negative light in which most complaints paint us – that we are idle, incompetent or have a ‘bad attitude’ – surely we’re doing the complainants a favour by removing them? Who’d want to be looked after by us? And, really, how can we continue a ‘therapeutic’ relationship knowing that, henceforth, there’s a gun aimed firmly at our temples?

What’s the GMC’s view? Good question. On the one hand, it acknowledges: ‘You should end a professional relationship with a patient only when the breakdown of trust… means you cannot provide good clinical care.’ On the other, you shouldn’t so do, ‘…solely because of a complaint the patient has made’.

Whatever. The way things are going, soon there won’t be any GPs to moan about because we’ll all have been complained to retirement/Australia/death. So chuck complainants off at the point of complaint. That way they might think twice. Sure, there would be some collateral damage – some justified complainants who suffer, a few who’d be intimidated into silence – but that’s what happens in a war. And I’m not complaining.

Dr Tony Copperfield is a GP in Essex. You can follow him on Twitter @DocCopperfield

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Readers' comments (16)

  • Spot on!

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  • on. And here come the cardies to complain.....

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  • I didn't rate this 3 stars - I gave it 5, but I got jogged in the car!!! En point again Doc Copperfield. Any chance your messages could be directly administered to the GMC and Jezza Hunt alike?

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  • Pointless and petty vexatious complaints (eg for trying to tackle abuse, and being threatened with GMC referral in the process - damned if I do, damned if I dont) is one reason there is one less GP working in the NHS today. Where I work now, the culture is far far different. My family are too important to leave their financial secuity in the hands of the feckless who see us as an no-risk opportunity to kick the establishment.

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  • Complaints never used to matter in the old days when some common sense was implied. Problem is there are now almost infinite opportunities for nasty people to escalate and develop their complaint until it gets somewhere (usually at the poor GPs expense). I don't know how we turn the clock back but this culture has to stop.

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  • growing trend of no win no fee fishing exercises. recently got letter from solicitors alleging 'negligence' against the practice and requesting copy of records. i was surprised as I could not remember any problems with the patients care and on review of records there were no medical errors evident. i did remember that the last time i saw the patient he had lost his job and was having financial problems so i suspect he was trying to see of he could get some money out of us.

    nothing has come of any of this and i am tempted to challenge the patient over what has happened. i think i would be well within my rights to suggest he leaves the practice.

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  • And of course we are now obliged to inform CQC of any complaints against us. Even if they are bo**ox.

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  • A woman, who I have tried really hard to sort out, booked an appointment to see me to tell me she had lost trust in the practice. She had already complained and it had all been dealt with. I was ever so nice, and apologised again, but got fed up when we weren't getting anywhere. She talked about leaving the practice, and asked me what I was going to do about it. In the end I suggested she did leave if she didn't think we were any good. Bizarrely she has not, and sees the registrar instead! (Poor girl!) It's often the ones you try really hard for.

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  • It should work both ways. Patients can easily leave most practices for a new one, and we should be able to chuck off vexatious patients at the earliest sign of trouble.
    However the Cardies have got involved and made it next to impossible to easily get rid of patients without having to make some special representation to the CCG / NHSE.
    A pointed verbal message of "I'm sure you'd get the care you think you deserve, from a GP, elsewhere", usually works.

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  • Spot on :o) I sometimes idly wonder what would happen if we, en masse, as a profession, adopted a policy of bouncing ALL complaints straight back with a standard letter making no reference to the complaint and informing the complainer that they are being removed from the list, for surely we and our colleagues always do our best, in good faith, and that's all that can be expected of us, and all complaints are therefore unreasonable.

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From: Copperfield

Dr Tony Copperfield is a jobbing GP in Essex with more than a few chips on his shoulder