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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.