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From Dr John Chalmers


I suspect the pendulum will eventually swing back to a more neutral position with regard to the handling of complaints, but I won't be holding my breath.

I had a ringside seat as 'friend' to a colleague facing a complaint under the pre-1990s system. A few years ago I was toe to toe with the first NHS ombudsman soon after he took up the cudgels on behalf of Mr Angry. I have even been sued, unsuccessfully, in the Court of Session so write with some feeling on these matters.

None of these were particularly pleasant events and cost the NHS the engagement of an experienced GP in the last few years of his career, and my own hardening cynicism with regard to the prospects for fair play in the primary care complaints world.

In the face of a complaint against a GP, you can expect the local trust to concentrate on making sure that no mud sticks to them, the LMC will say one thing in private and something rather more ambiguous in public, and your defence society will do their sums and take the cheapest course of action.

The GMC has recently announced that of the 5,000 complaints it receives each year, most of them, that is in excess of 2,500, are inappropriate as, 'even if they were to be upheld in every aspect', they do not fall within its remit.

In future, it intends to refer such complaints back to a local procedure. So far, so good. But it spoils it all by adding that it will maintain an interest in the case and require it be 'kept up to date' until the matter has been concluded.

Surely the correct course of action with such a complaint would be to decline to become involved and advise the complainant of how, and to whom, they should properly make their case.

My advice is to develop a thick skin and a patient-centred, but doctor-focused, style. Expect, during your career, to be complained about no matter how hard you try.

If it goes as far as a court case, at least you can expect the outcome to be based on an examination of the evidence. Don't bank on that from the NHS complaints process or, indeed, the ombudsman.

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