This site is intended for health professionals only

GMC holds information on complaints without doctors’ knowledge, defence body warns

More than 4,000 doctors a year have complaints made against them to the GMC that will remain on their record indefinitely without their knowledge, a medical defence body has warned. 

The Medical Defence Union said that records of complaints that do not meet the threshold of a full GMC investigation are retained by the GMC indefinitely without the doctor knowing about it, and can be brought up if the doctor is later the subject of a GMC investigation.

GP leaders and the MDU have said this is ‘inadequate’, and doctors should be informed about any information held on them by the GMC.

The GMC said in its records retention policy consultation last December that it would continue to hold information on unsubstantiated complaints so it will ‘be aware of [the complaint] if something happens subsequently which might be related and… re-build more detail in future if required’.

However, it would be unable to inform these doctors because it would be ‘unduly burdensome to keep all doctors updated about what data we hold on them and when it changes’.

The GMC’s ‘State of Medical Education and Practice’ (SOMEP) report, published this month, revealed that this would affect more than 4,000 doctors, with a total of 4,028 complaints made in 2012 that did not reach full investigation.

The regulator was unable to provide a figure on how many of these were GPs, but the SOMEP report did state that GPs were more likely than any other group of doctor to have complaints made against them, and less likely to have those complaints investigated.

Dr Caroline Fryer, medico-legal adviser at the MDU, said it was unnecessary for the GMC to hold such information, and it would disadvantage doctors if they were to later become the subject of a GMC investigation.

She said: ‘We find it’s difficult to see why it’s necessary to hold the information indefinitely. Also to our minds if there are these concerns which doctors aren’t aware of, it doesn’t help their learning going forward.’

‘It’s very difficult to comment a long way down the line on an incident. Doctors may have no recollection, clearly they can rely on any notes they made at the time, which is of course why it’s very important to make detailed notes, in order that you are able to jog your memory should you be asked to comment on something a long time in the future.’

Dr Dean Marshall, a GPC negotiator, said: ‘We would very much view that doctors would want to know of any communication that relates to them with the GMC, whether the GMC basically threw it out at the earliest opportunity.’

‘That has implications for the doctor-patient relationship, whether someone has made a complaint, whether it’s on file with the GMC or not. I think our view would be that if the GMC has administrative problems, that’s not really an adequate response.’

The regulations stipulated in the GMC’s records retention review state that records of complaints will be kept in full for four years before being replaced with a ‘summary record’ containing the doctor’s and patient’s names, date, reasons for closure, and an outline of the complaint.

The GMC must obtain consent from the patient before notifying the doctor of the complaint. However, in its records retention review, it said it would not be practical to complete this process for all complaints it receives that do not go to full investigation.

The GMC was unavailable for comment.