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GMC has received complaints around GPs failing to wear appropriate PPE

Exclusive The GMC has received complaints that GPs failed to wear appropriate PPE during the Covid-19 pandemic, some of which were lodged by patients, Pulse has learned.

The GMC told Pulse that it has received three complaints against GPs on its register that included ‘an allegation of a doctors’ failure to wear appropriate PPE or follow infection control guidelines in a clinical setting’.

Two of these came from members of the public and the third was lodged by the GP’s employer or responsible officer, and one has been closed with two are ‘still in process’, the GMC said.

The regulator said it has to by law consider complaints, but wants doctors to feel ‘assured’ that they are doing all they can to minimise the impact of complaints.

The GMC has received five similar complaints about other doctors on its register, two of which also came from the public rather than employers and three of which are still active, they said.

However, they added that they have ‘not yet received any referrals or complaints where allegations pertained to doctor’s refusal to work or treat a patient due to a lack of adequate PPE provided by their employer’. 

This comes as GP leaders said at the start of the pandemic that GPs could refuse to treat patients if they did not have access to sufficient PPE.

The BMA has called GP PPE provision during Covid a ‘postcode lottery’. Most recently, the Government has reduced the number of visors GP practices can order from its online PPE portal while a BMA survey revealed ongoing shortages of eye protection.

Dr Rob Hendry, medical director at the Medical Protection Society (MPS), urged the GMC to ‘show restraint’ in dealing with complaints over the ‘adequacy’ of PPE.

He said: ‘We advise members to follow official guidance on PPE and infection control at all times and are confident that GPs have done an exceptional job in minimising opportunities for Covid-19 to spread within their practices.

‘If the GMC receives a complaint regarding concerns about the adequacy of PPE or infection control, they should only open an investigation where there is a serious concern about a doctor’s fitness to practise.’ 

A spokesperson for the MDDUS added that coronavirus-related regulatory proceedings should take into account the ‘intense pressure’ GPs are facing.

They said: ‘MDDUS has been working together with the GMC and our other regulatory stakeholders to emphasise the need for clinicians to be treated fairly – while patients’ rights are protected – in the event of any related proceedings.’

And the MDU told Pulse that while it is ‘not aware’ of members being referred to the GMC for ‘PPE issues or refusal to work’, its team has supported ‘many members’ with Covid queries,including about the use of PPE.  

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Joanna Farrell, assistant director for investigation operations at the GMC, said: ‘By law we must consider all complaints but we want doctors to feel assured we’re doing all we can to minimise the impact, while continuing to protect patients. 

‘This includes developing new guidance on how to take account of the pandemic in handling complaints, training our decision makers and creating a process to ensure complaints relating to the pandemic are dealt with as swiftly as possible.’

She added: ‘Due consideration should and will be given to doctors who are using their skills under difficult circumstances due to lack of personnel and overwhelming demand during the pandemic.

‘We also have safeguards for whistleblowers, to prevent the misuse of our system, by requiring referring organisations to disclose if a doctor has raised concerns.’

The GMC spokesperson added that complaints ‘can include more than just one allegation and might encompass wholly different concerns which may be more or less serious’.

The GMC receives about 8,500 complaints every year, of which only 1,500 result in an investigation, they said.

It comes as Public Health England (PHE) has downgraded the PPE requirements for GPs delivering this year’s expanded flu programme. 

Last month, the body came under fire from the safety watchdog over ‘poorly-communicated’ PPE guidance, which the Healthcare Safety Investigation Branch said had the potential to put patients at risk.

And the BMA is set to vote on an inquiry into the Government’s handling of the pandemic, including PPE provision. 

In May, NHS England suggested to GPs there had been an ‘over-reliance’ on PPE and GPs should focus more on ‘hand hygiene’.

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