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Break-down in patient communication behind a third of allegations about GPs, show GMC figures

GPs are complained about by the general public more than other doctors, with a third of those originating from a specific allegation linked with a breakdown in patient communication, show official GMC figures.

The GMC’s third annual State of Medical Education and Practice in the UK report found GPs had a 17% chance of receiving a complaint compared to 11% for specialists and 4% for other doctors.

But they were at a lower risk of having a complaint investigated. Although GPs accounted for nearly half (46%) of all complaints, they accounted for only 35% of all sanctions or warnings issued.

The number of complaints against doctors has been growing since 2007, a trend which continued last year. The GMC received 8,109 complaints last year – up 24% since 2011 and a rise of over 100% since 2007.

The report found that male doctors were around twice as likely as female doctors to be complained about with 22% of male GPs receiving a complaint compared with just 11% of female GPs between 2007 and 2012.

The proportion of doctors over 50 years old who received a complaint was higher than for doctors aged 30–50 years and the report said that this was ‘particularly true for GPs.’

International medical graduates also received a higher proportion of complaints than UK or EEA graduates and again this was likely to be particularly true for GPs where 25% of international medical graduates received a complaint compared with only 15% of UK graduates and 17% of EEA graduates.

The report says: ‘GPs received more complaints during 2007-12 than specialists or other doctors, accounting for 46% of all complaints. This is not surprising, given the large number of interactions between GPs and their patients – there were 303.9 million GP consultations in England between 2008 and 2009.’

It added: ‘Of the complaints we receive about GPs that have an assigned allegation, 29% were linked to their communication with patients. GPs may therefore need more support, guidance or resources to ensure that their engagement with patients is appropriate.’

The GMC report also found that only 1% of all cases merited a sanction or warning but that for male international and EEA qualified GPs aged between 30 to 50 years that chance was doubled.

Commenting on the report GMC chair Professor Sir Peter Rubin said: ‘Overall the standard of care that patients receive in the UK is good and doctors continue to deserve the trust and respect of the public.’