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Making complaints fairer

I was disappointed with the impression given by the item 'Ombudsman to triple investigations of GPs' (News, September 15) that the ombudsman was targeting GPs by increasing the number of complaints investigated each year. This assessment is far from the truth and in fact the pilot scheme in Wales will be fairer to both doctors and patients.

We investigate fewer than a third of the total of eligible complaints considered by the ombudsman each year, but every complaint is considered in depth by lay investigating staff and the ombudsman's medical advisers.

Before deciding whether or not to embark on an investigation we ask the GP, trust or health authority to provide us with their relevant papers. At this point they know they are the subject of a complaint but that is all. It is only once the investigation begins that they see the complainant's allegations and are invited to comment.

The main purpose of the pilot scheme in Wales is to improve this situation. It will not impose any more work on those complained against than is now the case. But under the investigation procedure they will have the opportunity to respond to the complaint at the very beginning of our process. That response might enable us to resolve a case straightaway and avoid the need to take things further.

Complainants, too, will be reassured the ombudsman has established the facts of the case and carried out a truly independent investigation into their concerns.

Dr Shaun Firth

Acting Director for Clinical Advice

Office of the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman

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