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GMC holds information on complaints without doctors' knowledge, defence body warns

More than 4,000 doctors a year have complaints made against them to the GMC that will remain on their record indefinitely without their knowledge, a medical defence body has warned. 

The Medical Defence Union said that records of complaints that do not meet the threshold of a full GMC investigation are retained by the GMC indefinitely without the doctor knowing about it, and can be brought up if the doctor is later the subject of a GMC investigation.

GP leaders and the MDU have said this is ‘inadequate’, and doctors should be informed about any information held on them by the GMC.

The GMC said in its records retention policy consultation last December that it would continue to hold information on unsubstantiated complaints so it will ‘be aware of [the complaint] if something happens subsequently which might be related and… re-build more detail in future if required’.

However, it would be unable to inform these doctors because it would be ‘unduly burdensome to keep all doctors updated about what data we hold on them and when it changes’.

The GMC’s ‘State of Medical Education and Practice’ (SOMEP) report, published this month, revealed that this would affect more than 4,000 doctors, with a total of 4,028 complaints made in 2012 that did not reach full investigation.

The regulator was unable to provide a figure on how many of these were GPs, but the SOMEP report did state that GPs were more likely than any other group of doctor to have complaints made against them, and less likely to have those complaints investigated.

Dr Caroline Fryer, medico-legal adviser at the MDU, said it was unnecessary for the GMC to hold such information, and it would disadvantage doctors if they were to later become the subject of a GMC investigation.

She said: ‘We find it’s difficult to see why it’s necessary to hold the information indefinitely. Also to our minds if there are these concerns which doctors aren’t aware of, it doesn’t help their learning going forward.’

‘It’s very difficult to comment a long way down the line on an incident. Doctors may have no recollection, clearly they can rely on any notes they made at the time, which is of course why it’s very important to make detailed notes, in order that you are able to jog your memory should you be asked to comment on something a long time in the future.’

Dr Dean Marshall, a GPC negotiator, said: ‘We would very much view that doctors would want to know of any communication that relates to them with the GMC, whether the GMC basically threw it out at the earliest opportunity.’

‘That has implications for the doctor-patient relationship, whether someone has made a complaint, whether it’s on file with the GMC or not. I think our view would be that if the GMC has administrative problems, that’s not really an adequate response.’

The regulations stipulated in the GMC’s records retention review state that records of complaints will be kept in full for four years before being replaced with a ‘summary record’ containing the doctor’s and patient’s names, date, reasons for closure, and an outline of the complaint.

The GMC must obtain consent from the patient before notifying the doctor of the complaint. However, in its records retention review, it said it would not be practical to complete this process for all complaints it receives that do not go to full investigation.

The GMC was unavailable for comment.

Readers' comments (9)

  • Sounds like we should all make a 'subject access request' under dpa, that way we would be able to find out the truth...

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  • They're saying cant release info without other party permission. Since they don't prosecute criminals how can they keep and not inform those who they have info about, how information maybe used or how long that information maybe kept for?
    Who wants to report the GMC to the ICO?

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  • The GMC have the upper hand . As Profession we have no influence over GMC. The profession is getting weaker and weaker and soon the profession will be on the palliative care register

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  • Surely they can't have it both ways - the information relates to you enough to be kept under your name and you should have access to it or it does not have enough relevance and is not kept under you name and should not come up in any search relating to you and you do not have the priviledge to access this information

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  • why anonymous from all the commentators? No one trusts the GMC now. It is now an empire building organisation that you pay to shoot yourself. It's actions speaks volumes. Even criminal suspects gets their DNA removed if there is no evidence. I think this is a breach of doctors basic human rights.

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  • T Roscoe

    " ‘unduly burdensome to keep all doctors updated about what data we hold on them and when it changes’."

    as pointed out above, it will not be burdensome to the individuals for thousands of doctors to submit an annual request for information newly held in the last 12 months.

    A template on the BMA web site which you can fill in with a few clicks, requiring e-mail confirmation before it is sent, would be cheap and simple to set up.

    No anonymous

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  • What about when the complaint is to do with doctors failure to adhere to the DPA? Hopefully it keeps copies of the names & complaints of psychotherapists who were responsible for the initial complaint too.

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  • T Roscoe

    and another thought, if they do not have the pateints permission to have their details then they cannot keep them. You can't keep information on people without their permission. It is well known that patients often complain about the wrong doctor, I know of a practice had an argument with a patient who said they had altered the holiday rota and appointment book to cover up as the doctor involved could not have been away. Keeping inaccurate data about someone is an offence under the DPA, so unless they can prove it is correct, they will have to destroy it.

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  • The GMC informs complainants that it will keep a record of the complaint and write to doctor's employer - even if it does not investigate Stream 2 complaints.

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