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Independents' Day

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)

  • yes this was one reason I left the UK. If I have made a medical error or sexually abused someone please complain but the many I have had all amount to either having toi wait, not liking me or being told there was no time to discussed problem 3 or 4 in 10 minutes please rebook.
    I don't know what is wrong with the British public. If you don't like the doctor or service then go elsewhere. In Canada 3 years and not one complaint. Doctors here decide who they see and what kind of patient they re comfortable with. Im not saying I would get rid of patients who were rude etc but the fact I am now able to helps and it puts the control back in the doctors hands. Doctors in the uk are neutered, GimPs as suggested by someone the patients litte public servent bitch to be abused at will. It really needs to change. Just the ability to refuse to treat a patient or have them on yourt books would get rid of all these complaionts over worry of having to find a new doctor. aas said they can leave we cant get rid its too one sided.they have all the power

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  • Of course doctors do no wrong and are above reproach. ............How dare people complain, I would be happy to leave a list run by a doctor with this type of attitude. The days of putting doctors on pedestals have passed, the sooner doctors realise they do mistakes, the safer the NHS will be.

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  • Well said Tony,
    Good on ya' mate !
    PS I'm now practising in sunny South Australia, free from the chains that were strangling me !

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  • Janet Newport -

    You dont know what you are talking about. Most complaints are not due to errors - they are often when the patient thinks they havent got what they want (and if they are medically trained they are free to their opinion and can manage it) - be it a test, or a specific medication - or complaints of attitude (in which case they can vote with their feet and go elsewhere) or waiting times.

    This service is on its knees due to people like you - when it finally breaks, I imagine you and your ilk will be the first to complaint about the fact there are no GPs because you have complained us to death

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  • Janet Newport, I fear you have failed to grasp the point of this site. I believe it is possible you are not a GP or have I (heaven forbid!) made a mistake?

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  • LOVED this Article! Absolutely 100% spot on and had me laughing out loud! Keep up the good work, Doc! I'm an NHS AHP and work in GP Practices and I attended a one-day Seminar many years ago run by GPs - it was called "Heartsink Hotel" on how to deal with "Heartsink" Patients. It was a blast. I love GPs Sense of Humour.

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From: Copperfield

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