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A faulty production line

GP practices see sharp increase in written complaints from patients

Patients were significantly more likely to complain about their GP services in the past year, according to data released by NHS Digital.

Across primary care, written complaints increased by 9.7% compared to the year before, with the total number rising from 82,559 in 2015/16 to 90,579 in 2016/17.

Of these, 83.2% related to GP surgeries, while 14.6% related to dental practices.

However, around half (49.4%) of resolved complaints made about GP providers were not upheld. Of those that were, 37.1% were fully upheld, while 13.5% were partially upheld. 

The largest proportion of complaints were made by patients aged between 26 and 55 years old (46.3%), with the largest number of complaints concerning communication.

This was followed by clinical treatment, staff attitude and behaviour and appointment availablity.

But when aggregated, complaints about appointments and access were most frequent, mentioned 17,241 times.

The report also showed:

  • The total number of all reported written complaints against the NHS in 2016/17 was up by 4.9%, to 208,415. This is the equivalent to 4,008 written complaints a week or 571 complaints per day.
  • The total number of complaints against hospitals and community health services was 117,836 in 2016/17, representing an increase of 1,656 (1.4%) from last year (116,180).

BMA GP Committee chair Dr Richard Vautrey said it was 'inevitable that more patients will be frustrated about NHS services which is a direct result of the systemic underfunding of GP services and the unsustainable and unsafe workload pressures practices are under'.

He added: 'The way to address this is not to criticise hardworking practices but to resource them properly to be able to properly meet the growing needs of our patients.'

RCGP chair Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard said: 'GP practices actively encourage patients to submit feedback and raise complaints if they feel that the care and services they have received are below their expectations. It is through patient feedback that GP teams can improve the care they deliver to their patients.

'However, the family doctor service has experienced almost a decade of under-investment and as a result, GPs and our teams are buckling under the pressures of a huge increase in patient numbers but a shortage of doctors to care for them.

'Inevitably, this will occasionally impact on the service we can deliver and this can be frustrating for patients – and GPs.'

Dr Pallavi Bradshaw, senior medicolegal adviser at GP indemnity provider MPS, said: 'For GPs in particular, patient expectations are increasing, they are competing with "Dr Google" and the pressure of a 10 minute appointment can mean patients feel rushed and that empathy is lacking.

'Many of the complaints we see against healthcare professionals are rooted in communication. Good complaints handling procedures are crucial in helping to ensure complaints are resolved effectively, locally and without the need for legal recourse.'

top 10 reasons behind a gp written complaint

Source: NHS Digital

N.B. When aggregated, issues concerning appointments were most frequently raised, mentioned in over 17,000 complaints.



Readers' comments (18)

  • Maybe something to do with the fact we are 'actively encouraging' complaints.

    Rubbish music in reception? We insist you complain.

    Cant see a GP due to funding cuts? We insist you complain. "But Dr i dont want to complain to the practice cos its not your fault?".....No, we insist you complain...

    Dr im not happy about......Stop right there. The CQC insist i stuff out complaints procedure down your throat

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  • There is increasing discrepancy between what patients are promised and what is reasonably deliverable.

    90,000 written complaints about primary care in a year? Remind me how many GPs there are? Used to be considered unfortunate to get any complaint at all, ever and prompted great concern. Now complaints are flippantly thrown about for any dissatisfaction and used as a stick to beat service providers. Why are so many of us leaving?

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  • Some of this is directly attributable to a reduction in resources and fragmentation of primary health care systems, lack of continuity. Therefore the responsibility of government...and this should be pointed out in any complaint response.

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  • It's an industry.

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  • Vinci Ho

    ''The largest proportion of complaints were made by patients aged between 26 and 55 years old (46.3%), with the largest number of complaints concerning communication.''

    Clearly demonstrates time is an essential resource, alongside with money , manpower and expertise.
    Only when the stakeholders understand the concept of all these are resources and tools for us to do our job,the number of complaints is only up and up all the time .

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  • Don't know why they bother to complain. Complaints are an occupational hazard and bothersome things that take up valuable clinical time to answer, and are mostly about things I can't change.

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  • Interesting to see the discrepancy between the complaints about secondary care compare to primary care. The problem now is that more and more care is being dumped from secondary to primary without the resources and with patient expectation that the same level of care should be provided in primary care compared to what was provided in secondary care in the past. Secondary care has 15 to 20 minutes per consultation in outpatients with one problem compare to 10 minutes in primary care with multiple problems. Says it all really.

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  • Time to be non-PC and put myself even further up that non-existent list again.

    I could not, if it were more possible, disagree with our esteemed leader Dr Stokes-Lampard when she writes;

    "RCGP chair Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard said: 'GP practices actively encourage patients to submit feedback and raise complaints if they feel that the care and services they have received are below their expectations. It is through patient feedback that GP teams can improve the care they deliver to their patients."

    Patients that complain are now in the majority simply demanding what they think they deserve, and not what they need. They have no concept of the impact it has on staff time, sickness or morale. I have seen good people reduced to mental illness from vexatious complaints. They occupy a significant amount of resources that detract from providing patient care, thus exacerbating the problem. I daresay some innocent people die across the UK and have their health harmed because of the millions of staff-hours taken from providing care to answer each complaint across UK primary care. I have yet to see any research evidence that this complaints culture has resulted in an improved service.

    The customer is not always right. In fact, the customer is quite frequently wrong, and needs to be told so. "Im not happy" - is not a right to complain to get what you want. "Im not happy" does not mean the patient was not provided with good safe clinical care. It is not our job to make you happy. At times, in fact, we might make you unhappy because we have to tell you what you dont want to hear, or refuse the investigation of treatment that you demand, to protect you from yourself.

    I am all for learning from significant errors, and clinical complaints. But when my staff are subjected to little more than vexatious demands wrapped up in the opportunistic form of a ;'complaint' with the aim of attritional attempts to get what they want, this is unacceptable. But this has become an industry and the pendulum has swung far too far in the wrong direction.

    PC? No. Dinosaur? Maybe. We should not be encouraging complaints and this has become a harming culture to the NHS. The genuine learning events are being drowned out by the noise of the 'Me Now' Culture. It is time to fight back.

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  • Am I reading this wrong,essentially the first three on the first Monday of the year
    The other fifty plus a day five days a week fifty two weeks of the year are happy
    As many consultations as you like, about as many issues as you like,full history examination etc.
    Physical psychological social biological individual contextural
    College that does not try to set limits, and a BMA that does nothing.
    90,000 complaints is an amazingly low figure,so low as to be barely credible

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  • I agree 110% with JH Lost hamster.....did you ever notice that the people who tell us what to do are not the people actually doing our jobs?.. a couple of sessions per week doesn't cut it..... they are sitting in ivory towers envisaging a perfect world, a world that doesnt exist. The resources are not there, the time is not there to do our job perfectly, and when you have a moron sitting in front of you who can't understand why antibiotics will not help in their cold despite using mickey mouse language and multiple patient information leaflets how long do we have to give the ingrate who has been squeezed in as an extra to work it out? Some patients never do... and they will never be happy unless they get an antibiotic.... my last one told me they were going to the hospital if they didn't get an antibiotic... they had a cold...they didn't..... they went to the hospital.... these people are wasting NHS resources.... how about clamping down on them instead of stoking more complaints? I used to advise patients to write to their MP as there's sod all I can do about their service..... my job is to make sure patients get the treatment they need, not what they want, and not to pander to their whims.... and is this whimsical world, of course many are going to be offended as a consequence. Its not my problem if the service isn't what they want, its the best that most doctors can provide given the resource limitations. I am not a happiness fairy. If they want happiness go for life coaching..... if they want a better service they need to fund it either through direct payment or more taxes.......and even if you did there will always be people who are never happy. They can always change surgery if they don't like it...... thats if there are any left open...... this was one of the reasons I left for Australia. The GMC is simply too slow at dealing with complaints leaving doctors high and dry and its interesting when they've been challenged in court what the outcomes are. Again people who work full time as legal advisers in the MPS or GMC etc likely realise its safer to sit where they are and criticise others rather than do the job themselves......because they know that no-one can do the job perfectly overtime in the high demand limited resource legally opportunistic world we work in....... look at medical protection society pay....... esp those at top, does anyone here think they are worth it?

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  • why cant we complain about the patients ? There are some rude and selfish people who do not use the scarce NHS resources in a careful way. In my experience most patients are considerate of scarce resources,and appreciative of the problems we have. But there are some who obviously have no thought for anyone but themselves, and I think we should be able to complain about them too.

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  • All comments spot on especially by lost hamster.

    Most complaints are a load of bull and things you can't actually change and a product of the system eg gp appointments and waiting times etc & patients not getting what they WANT and not NEED.

    I appreciate a complaint is a grievance but when this grievance is over-dramatised and baseless tosh it winds me up, sometimes I wonder if I should refer to the Geneva convention with the descriptions I've read....I was mistreated, humiliated and abused because I didn't get my referral for a 3rd opinion on my 2nd opinion type thing.

    I used to spend ages worrying, writing a response etc. Now I just see it part and parcel of the job and try to deal with them with mimimum effort/writing as possible eg a quick call if possible . I may just copy and paste this article To the next complaint we get about appointment waiting times....:

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  • Rogue1

    JH Lost Hamster
    I like it, and agree we should not be simply accepting complaints.
    They key age group is the working age group with work-related time stresses, like every body has these days. That doesn't make us the punch bag for all.
    And, GP with no union,
    I agree as well, there is a growth in rude patients, that amounts to abuse of staff. We should be able to report, and make it easier to remove these patients.

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  • "Good complaints handling procedures are crucial in helping to ensure complaints are resolved effectively, locally and without the need for legal recourse."

    What effing tosh. This is prescisely attitude which is fueling the complaints as it's pandering to the demand rather then culture of having appropriate concerns for appropriate problems. What we need isn't better complaint handling procedure/pathway/communicator/expert. We need our patient to complain when there is a genuine problem which is below the standard expected of from general practice in 2017 UK, not when they are not having their demands met.

    Bearing in mind MDOs needs complaints to sustain their income, are we surprised of the advice? I'm not...........

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  • Dear Macdonalds Medicine,
    can I just remind you that it is a fact well known to all hospital staff from Consultants to Nurses that all viral urtis must be treated promptly with 'standard antibiotics for colds' and good GPs should always prescribe these freely. Any GP who does not is clearly incompetent in their view, which tends to strengthen the patients' resolve to get the antibiotics they deserve. pity.

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  • AlanAlmond

    How can I complain about a patient? Some of them are absolutely horrible and yet I have to see them, they know where I work and I can't escape, they just keep coming back..week after week to torment me and make my life a misery. They have right to do so where as I have no rights at all. It's like I'm a trash can they are entitled to crap in. The only way I can escape is to leave my job and give up my livelihood. How did it get to be like this?

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    Just like referrals going to referral triage...
    there should be a central complaints triage...
    Sorry your referral has been declined....
    Sorry your complaint has been declined...
    This will allow time spent on genuine clinical issues....

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  • Just Your Average Joe

    If patients were not told they could have everything they want, and a right of referral for a specialist opinion under NHS charter, then referral team reject the referral which I resend twice, how is it the practices fault.

    Why does getting a 2 page letter full of grievance on not getting the referral fall on our doorstep wasting precious time to respond to which could be better spent on patient care.

    Let's start patients to not complain unless they have actually come to harm.

    If you felt the GP was rude and dismissive - see someone else, or change your GP instead as maybe there is a personality clash.

    Waited 12 minutes to see the GP,(probably because GP was answering complaint of person who waited 10 mins or) see Dr X who has you out of the door before you sat down instead - the patients all know who is who. Want to be heard feel free to wait, as the others wanting the same service have already done that.

    Life would be better for all!

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