GPs are facing growing complaints over the ‘unfair removal' of patients from practice lists, with terminally ill patients among those affected, according to a damning report by the Health Service Ombudsman.
Complaints about patients being wiped by GP lists accounted for more than one in five (21%) of complaints about GPs investigated by the ombudsman in 2010/11, up 6% from the previous year.
In her highly critical report, Ann Abraham, blasted the NHS for failing to deal appropriately with basic complaints and warned some GPs are breaching NHS contracts and BMA guidance by removing patients from practice lists ‘without fair warning or proper explanation'.
In one case highlighted in the report, a terminally ill woman and her family were struck off a GP practice's list after a dispute about the woman's daughter, a registered nurse, changing the battery on a device which administered the patient's anti-sickness medication.
The GP practice decided that ‘the doctor-patient relationship with the family had broken down' and requested that the PCT remove the patient and her family from their patient list.
Following the ombudsman's investigation, the practice apologised and drew up plans to avoid a repeat of the situation.
In her report, Ms Abraham wrote: ‘There is clear guidance for GPs about removing patients from their lists. NHS contracts require GPs to give patients a warning before they remove them. Except where this would pose a risk to health or safety or it would be unreasonable or impractical to do so.'
‘Our casework shows that some GPs are not following this guidance. In the cases we have seen, GPs have applied zero tolerance policies without listening to and understanding their patients or considering individual circumstances.'
Overall the ombudsman received 2,581 complaints about GPs last year. Of these 66 complaints against GPs were ‘accepted for formal investigation' by the ombudsman, with patients' complaints upheld in 88% of cases.
Overall, the NHS paid out £500,000 in compensation to patients for poor complaint handling by health service bodies.