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GP burnout expert claims complaints process 'kills doctors’

A GP expert in burnout has called for more support for doctors facing a patient complaint, claiming 'complaints kill doctors'. 

Professor Clare Gerada, medical director for the NHS GP Health Service, called on the GMC to draw up a charter on how patient complaints are managed from 'the doctor and nurse end'.

Her comments came at a King's Fund event, attended by GMC chief executive Charlie Massey, on the implications of the Dr Hadiza Bawa-Garba case, which saw the junior doctor struck off the medical register following a controversial High Court ruling earlier this year.

Professor Gerada, who is also an ex-chair of the RCGP, said: 'Certainly, for serious complaints - as in this complaint - the complainant is left out to dry, isolated from their trust and receives no support and there is no code of conduct.

‘I need a charter that also incorporates how a complaint is managed, at the other end, the doctor and nurse end, because actually complaints kill doctors and they can kill nurses as well.’

But Professor Gerada said that doctors are working in a ‘climate of fear because patients are encouraged to complain’, adding that there is a code of conduct for dealing with patient complaints, but that the ‘complainant is usually left out to dry’.

A GMC spokesperson said: ‘We know investigations into fitness to practice complaints can be distressing for doctors, and we share a desire for complaints to be resolved as quickly as possible, and with as little stress as possible for all concerned.'

They said that a 'wide range of reforms' have been implemented, adding that they have improved the way they write to doctors ensuring communication is 'clear and sensitive in tone', and 'remain committed to continuing to improve the way we handle complaints'.

Last week Pulse revealed that more than one quarter of black and minority ethnic GPs experience discrimination from patients at least monthly, with one GP explaining that patients 'show dissatisfaction from the outset' leading to 'erroneous' complaints about their competency. 

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  • stressed - tired - overworked - burnout - RF

Readers' comments (10)

  • The RCGP has also done it's bit to "kill doctors" - supporting the nonsense of Appraisal and Revalidation, trying to turn us into medically qualified social workers, the ghastly e-portfolio. Pot calling kettle black.....

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  • Dear All,
    And for evidence just look at that first letter you get from the GMC announcing the opening of the complaint, the one that reads; if you have undertaken any mitigation they will be taken into account. In other words, guilty until proven otherwise, and as Clare says, thats a lengthy, lonely, uphill struggle.
    Paul C
    complained about and still here.

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  • There is no need for complaints and all the paper work involved. Don't like the GP/service, find another one.

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  • Call me cynical. Cut services and divert the backlash by encouraging complaints, blaming doctors that can do nothing due to the cuts. Bring a new organisation called CQC, make the doctors pay for it to shoot them in their own foot and show the public standards are being improved while in real terms per patient, the budget is being cut, beds are being cut, blame goes to the doctors. We can see through this.

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  • This is an awful job now. The best I can do is discourage friends and family from enetering medicine.

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  • The dentists went private now £89 for a 15 minute check. Little NHS of any use. All fearfully bad stuff ..any ideas.?
    desperate .

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  • Merlin
    It is awful and fearful.
    I am so so upset re Dr BG. She gave fluids and antibiotics and her Consultant did NOT change anything. Yet she is convicted of manslaughter.

    CQC suspends 14000 doctor practice for lack of ' Process'.
    Get out if you can. Do not be a doctor in the UK. Discourage everyone from Medicine here.
    But, I see we are recruiting abroad to send more doctors to jail for manslaughter.

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  • Complaints are a part of the system
    In the vast majority of cases I suspect the public, a patient, a family, a loved one is seeking two things....
    Clarity and understanding as to why something has happened
    An assurance, if fault is found, that this should not happen to someone else - that we have learned.

    The problem is that for a medic, a GP, the emotional impact and the fact that we too often turn this into a painful, punitive and punishing process is at fault here... we do not learn best from being punished, blamed and beaten. Using Clare’s word we are at risk of being “killed” by the process.

    Clearly doctors have lost their lives but in so many ways:
    Mental wellbeing
    Addictions and self-harm
    And so much more...
    Often never the same again

    This is not to diminish the pain and anguish that may be suffered by complainants but it is vital that the process itself does not destroy life and where support for EVERYONE is needed it should ALWAYS be available. The process should always be about facts, fairness and resolution wherever possible.

    When a tree has fallen in a forest the whole forest must not be burned down and left to die.

    Let’s hope that as the process is reflected on, as all medics are asked to do in their own learning, that loss of a life, to add to the pain of a complaint, is removed as a risk. We all also need to prepare for the emotional and physical impact of these almost inevitable events.


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  • Complaints that I have received so far verbal & official were in situations where I have to say no which were based on Evidence based guidelines e.g. no to blacklisted meds for hirsutism ,no to referral early for infertility rx

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  • Oh why oh why has there being no mention of doctors being second victims when things go wrong!

    We don’t sell strawberries or computers in that if something defective is sold, the matters is settled by returns or money refunded, with health we doctors, caring as most are, do indeed suffer a lot from what’s happened, do we not?

    See the corpus of research on the “second victim”, here:

    and, here,

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