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New complaints process unfair and aggressive, GPs in trial areas claim

By Gareth Iacobucci

Trials of a new complaints process set to be introduced nationally within weeks have subjected GPs to unfair and overly aggressive investigations, LMC leaders warn.

Opponents of the system, which allows patients to complain directly to their PCT, fear trusts are being given ‘carte blanche' to abuse the system.

The claims came as health minister Lord Darzi urged PCTs to take on a far more proactive role in spearheading complaints procedures.

The Department of Health claims the new processes will resolve complaints more quickly and make it easier for patients to make a complaint.

The time limit for complaining is to be extended from six to 12 months, and GPs will be expected to provide PCTs with formal notification of all unresolved complaints and annual reports on total numbers and how they were resolved.

There have already been pilots in 25 early adopter PCTs, including in Birmingham, London and Liverpool. But in Birmingham, the LMC are warning that GPs have been hauled before PCT managers prematurely.

Dr Charles Zuckerman, medical secretary of Birmingham LMCs, said pilots in the city had led to PCTs jumping the gun to investigate GPs, with trusts intervening before the process could be resolved at practice level.

Dr Zuckerman said: ‘The proposed changes appear to give PCTs carte blanche to devise their own complaints processes.

‘We have seen cases where GPs were referred into the performance procedure at a very early stage before proper investigation of the complaint had been carried out. If this is a foretaste of things to come, we're all going to be in trouble.'

Samantha Warner, Complaints and Incidents manager for Heart of Birmingham PCT, said: ‘We work well with practices on resolving concerns early, for example through PALS, and handling formal complaints in a collaborative way.

‘Heart of Birmingham PCT would not respond to a complaint without involving the GP and agreeing a response.'

Health minister Lord Darzi said the new process was essential to ensure that the process became easier for patients.

He said: ‘The current complaints processes are being simplified to encourage patient feedback and make services, safer, more effective and personal.

‘I have spoken to NHS and social care leaders to remind them of their responsibility in implementing effective complaints systems.'

New complaints process

- GP practices will have to send formal confirmation to PCTs of all complaints received that are not resolved on the spot, either by letter, email or phone call.

- Patients can complain directly to PCTs as well as practices

- Time limit for submitting complaints extend from 6 to 12 months

- Practices must submit annual reports detailing complaints, including lessons learned and action taken.

Darzi has launched a new complaints process Darzi has launched a new complaints process

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