Employment lawyer Ginny Hallam assesses what to do if you have repeated complaints from patients about the attitude of a GP
You’re proud of your practice and the care that it provides the patients that it treats. In general, your staff take time to get to know their patients and take a sympathetic approach. But recently you have received a number of complaints from patients about your new GP.
He rushes them during the consultation, seems distracted and takes an approach that is too direct and sometimes belittling. You consider that it might be a bad week for the employee, however, when you’re still receiving complaints four weeks on, you decide that you need to think more carefully about the issue.
Confront the issue
Poor attitude to patients can be due to a number of factors: inexperience, training by a medic taking a similar approach, personal issues, tiredness, over work or personality. The first step is to consider why it is that the individual is behaving in a particular way.
Consider whether the individual has raised anything with you that might give you a clue as to why they are behaving in this way. It is only fair that the individual is told of the complaints against them.
Assuming that the complaints can be handled without reference to the GMC and can be dealt with internally, take an informal approach, initially. Explain to the GP the complaints that have been made against him and ask for his comments. Ensure that in doing so you give as much detail as they require to put forward a meaningful response.
Depending on the outcome, you have several options available to you. One or more of the following might be appropriate.
1) Move to a formal disciplinary process to deal with the issues
2) Tell the employee if you receive any more complaints you will move to a disciplinary process
3) Commence regular meetings with the employee to discuss their performance and any issues that they have
4) Train the employee in respect of their approach
5) Introduce a system to encourage patient feedback in the hope that this will encourage the employee to adjust their style or attitude
6) Hold random supervisory sessions with the employee themselves or the entire practise
If matters are serious enough to take disciplinary action then you will need to ensure that you follow your own disciplinary procedures and those of the ACAS Code of Practise on disciplinary and grievance procedures.
If you have not employed the employee for more than 51 weeks then, provided that your own disciplinary processes don’t apply, you could terminate their employment without following the full ACAS disciplinary code. Take advice before doing so, however, as taking this action could still result in claims being brought against you and could significantly affect the employee’s professional career.
If you decide to take disciplinary action against the employee, ensure you have carried out sufficient investigation to warrant that the formal disciplinary process is commenced.
Follow your own disciplinary procedures at all times. You should write to the employee calling them to the disciplinary meeting. Give them at least two clear days before the hearing so that they can digest the information, prepare for the hearing, call witnesses where appropriate and arrange for representation. The person that investigated the issues should not hold the disciplinary hearing.
At the hearing, allow the employee to put forward their side of the story. End the meeting and investigate further any evidence put forward by the employee. If you consider that the employee should be issued with a warning in accordance with your procedure, then do so.
It is best to communicate the warning personally to the employee first and then confirm in writing. Give the employee the right to appeal to someone different from the investigating and disciplining officer.
If a warning is issued, set out clearly the behaviour that is expected of the employee, how and when you are going to measure it, any support that you are going to provide the employee and the consequences if the employee fails to improve during the life of the warning.
Ginny Hallam is head of the employment team at the law firm Berryman Healthcare
Ginny Hallam Hints and tips
• Try and assess the cause of the problem and whether a formal or informal approach is best
• Don’t delay. The longer you take to deal with the issue the more difficult it will have become
• Always take notes of conversations that you think might be useful for investigation purposes or for a disciplinary hearing
• Take notes of any hearing that is held
• Enlist the help of HR where possible to guide the process
• Be clear in any warning (formal or informal) that is issued as to what is expected and the consequence if not achieved
• Follow through with any support offered
• Learn from your mistakes: if your disciplinary policy isn’t flexible enough or doesn’t work well in practice, change it (having consulted your employees or gained their agreement). Generally, a disciplinary policy that is contractual is to be avoided.