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Independent review of complaints doubles

By Joanna Clarke-Jones

The proportion of complaints against GPs being referred for independent review has rocketed in the last year, figures show.

Government statistics on written complaints about family health services, released last week, show the total number of cases rose marginally from 34,307 to 35,431 in 2004/5.

But requests for independent review in cases involving practices more than doubled from 1,248 to 2,700, according to separate figures from the Healthcare Commission.

The finding is the latest evidence of PCTs' continuing inability to sort out complaints at a local level.

The Healthcare Commission has already complained about PCTs' complaints handling and is looking into charging trusts for dealing with independent reviews. It has returned one in three complaints referred back to trusts to handle locally.

The GMC has also pressed trusts to improve the way they deal with complaints.

GPs said the rise in cases

going to independent review meant more doctors would be practising defensive medicine while they waited for their complaint to be resolved.

Some 44 per cent of cases referred to the Healthcare Commission since it took over independent review have taken six months or more to resolve.

Dr Ashok Deshpande, chair of South Essex LMC and a GP in Stanford-le-Hope, said GPs often thought a complaint had been resolved amicably at PCT level, only to find out later that the patient requested an independent review.

He said: 'All the while this is hanging over their heads, which may lead to them practising defensive medicine.

'More and more we are trying to see how we can avoid any mistakes. So much time is consumed on this, which is making consultation times longer.'

Dr Matthew Lee, deputy professional services director at the Medical Defence Union, said that although the Healthcare Commission was taking longer to deal with reviews, there had been a significant fall in the number of patient hearings. This meant cases were resolved without being as adversarial.

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