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Independents' Day

Secret GMC complaints files will continue following DH consultation

GPs will continue to have some secret complaints made against them kept on file, after the Department of Health decided to maintain the GMC’s current system - a move described by the GPC as ‘completely unfair’.

The BMA and medical defence organisations hoped that a long-awaited consultation by the Law Commission on reforming the regulation of health care professionals would overturn the situation whereby some complaints concerning their fitness to practise by the GMC are held on file, without the doctor being told.

However, the Government’s response to the consultation said it was going to maintain the staus quo because informing doctors about complaints that have been made against them with no subsequent investigation ‘may have a consequence against the person who made the referral.’

But the GPC has said that doctors deserve the right to know if a complaint is made against them, otherwise ‘people can make numerous complaints until one sticks’.

Last year, a Pulse investigation revealed that GPs could have multiple complaints against them on file at the GMC without them knowing - as thousands of closed cases were being been stored for further reference by the regulator.

GP leaders and defence organisations said the Law Commission consultation was the best chance to overturn the policy, introduced in 2012.

However, the consultation and the Government’s response said that that doctors should not be informed about such a policy.

The Government’s response to the Law Commissioners’ review said: ‘Where a regulatory body has decided not to proceed with an investigation following the preliminary consideration stage, we do not believe it would be appropriate to notify the registrant concerned.

‘Where no regulatory action is being taken, this could have an adverse consequence on the person who made the referral, particularly if they are still a patient or client of the registrant. It may also deter people from making referrals, which would be contrary to the principle of public protection.’

Dr Dean Marshall, GPC negotiator, said that he thinks doctors would want to know if a complaint has been made against them.

He added: ‘This has been a big issue. We think that people should be informed. Clearly the issues around if you get some a spurious complaint from someone and the GMC looks at it and it gets dropped - I think most doctors would want to know if a complaint had been made about them, that they decided at an early stage - I think the doctor has a right to know that complaint was made about them and who by.

‘Otherwise people can make a series of complaints and see if one them sticks – and that’s unfair.

‘If people can complain about us anonymously and we don’t know about, I think that is completely unfair to the doctor. And I think whether there’s an investigation of not, that person who makes the complaint should know that the doctor will know at some point that a complaint was made – that’s only fair.’

Dr Caroline Fryar, head of advisory services at the MDU said: ‘We are disappointed that this situation continues and believe that the GMC must be required to tell doctors if someone complains about them, even if the GMC decides not to investigate the matter. If doctors are told about all complaints, they will have an opportunity to reflect on any concerns raised and make any necessary changes to their practice which could improve patient safety. 

‘The GMC should not be allowed to retain information about complaints indefinitely when the doctor who is the subject of the complaint is not even aware that there has been a complaint.’

Earlier this month, a major study found that complaints can have a devastating mental and physical effect on doctors and may lead to patients being over-investigated and given unnecessary invasive procedures.

Readers' comments (16)

  • Took Early Retirement

    Thanks: this article reminded me that I have not heard from Greater Manchester Police about my allegations of possible corporate manslaughter, so I have sent an e-mail chasing this up.

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  • if the GMC thinks a complaint is not worth pursuing then what is the point of telling about its existence to the concerned doctor? I seriously question anyone's honesty if they say it will not add more to their stress. Get real.

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  • Vinci Ho

    What can't we have a similar 'system' for all complaints against politicians??

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  • Took Early Retirement

    So why , 5.36, keep it on file? No case to answer- bin it.

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  • As usual only doctors on the front line most at risk need to be honest, open and transparent. This clearly does not apply to any of our numerous and increasing regulators, especially the GMC. They no one is policing the police so can do as they please. I've said it before and I'll say it again, practice defensively, be totally risk averse, refer any concerns or doubts, admit the 50:50 patients and write absolutely water tight medical notes which are medicolegally sound and not open to misinterpretation or twisting by vextious patients or lawyers. Leave no doubt from anyone reading them you did your absolute best (as we all do day in and day out)so leaving no room it to be twisted for the sake of a no win no fee negligence claim or a GMC referral which THEY WILL INVESTIGATE as long as any buzz words are in the letter (negligence, vulnerable child or adult, Did not listern, etc). Pay of your mortgage, get your kids to university and retire, or emigrate.

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  • absolutely right,6.16. As a hospital consultant I feel exactly the same. this is becoming increasingly like a police state. There was a time when I loved my job- Now its a drudgery and all the past enthusiasm has been replaced with a complete sense of detachment. There needs to be some way of doctors taking a collective stand against this tyranny . In the interim,please everyone concentrate on self preservation

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  • I agree wholeheartedly with the previous 2 comments. The NHS is not a health service but a "system". As a young newly appointed naive partner I believed back in 2010 that this was the best place in the world to work. A vexatious complaint from a patient and a couple of examples locally of my colleagues being referred to the GMC changed my perception. There never should have been a situation whereby a GMC complaint could be made as a first resort. The processes and procedures locally should have been made more robust and accessed as a first resort. Nowadays anyone can make a complaint and go directly to the GMC. I saw first hand the effect that this had on my practice. The fear that permeates the profession now is by grand design so as to push through the type of changes that require a loss of autonomy from professionals. A strong independent confident profession would not have allowed many of the changes that have come to pass over the past decade or so. We know from recent events that whistleblowers have their careers and livelihoods destroyed and this is another systemic way of preventing dissent. The rot that our colleagues face including the esteemed consultant above is a symptom of widespread decay in the entire system that stems from an overly bureaucratic , autocratic totalitarian system that the NHS has become.

    My own story? After being told by senior colleagues to "play the game" ie develop a set of responses and behaviours to help navigate all this nonsense and maintain ones own sanity, I decided enough was enough and moved my family abroad. At the grand old age of 32 I emigrated and haven't looked back since. Police state Britain will soon get the system it deserves. The NHS may not respect it's professionals but it's becoming increasingly obvious that these same doctors abroad are given red carpet treatment and more importantly the freedom to work in the best interests of their patients without fear and harassment.

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  • This unfortunate situation has arisen because medical regulation has become a rapidly growing and highly profitable business. Sadly the claim that this 'protects patients' is little more than a front for a corrupt industry that thrives by exploiting the weak and unfortunate.

    It's almost impossible for single doctors to fight the tsunami of litigation because individuals simply don't have the money or psychological strength to confront organisations with such massive resources. The inevitable end-game of such a process is that we will only be able to manage patients by recourse to contracts and over-investigation.

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  • I think one could convincingly argue that the GMC is, on balance, now seriously damaging patient care. The fear of the GMC and its heavy handed 'stalinist' approach is leading to poor morale, defensive medicine and, inevitably, worse patient outcomes. I recommend the GMC investigates itself, then disbands itself for the sake of improved patient care.

    P.S. If we deliberately withheld information from patients we would be investigated by the GMC, found guilty, and probably struck off. All should be treated equally under the law... unless you are doctor, is seems.

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  • re previous comment:I think one could convincingly argue that the GMC is, on balance, now seriously damaging patient care. The fear of the GMC and its heavy handed 'stalinist' approach is leading to poor morale, defensive medicine and, inevitably, worse patient outcomes.

    Unfortunately, this all being the reality, the fear being created for GPs, along with the overload of change, is also having its effects on the sacred relationship between patient and GP. With the government not linking social security policy changes with GP work in its 'Fit to Work' schemes, many patients will no longer feel that the GPs are working with their best interests at heart. This is not the GPS fault, but by the Gov disempowering GPS relating to sickness certificates, and mandating then to refer patients to the Fit for Work system run by Maximus, a notorious Insurance company, this valued relationship will inevitably suffer.
    But I think thats the agenda.

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