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GP burnout expert claims complaints process ‘kills doctors’

A GP expert in burnout has called for more support for doctors facing a patient complaint, claiming ‘complaints kill doctors’. 

Professor Clare Gerada, medical director for the NHS GP Health Service, called on the GMC to draw up a charter on how patient complaints are managed from ‘the doctor and nurse end’.

Her comments came at a King’s Fund event, attended by GMC chief executive Charlie Massey, on the implications of the Dr Hadiza Bawa-Garba case, which saw the junior doctor struck off the medical register following a controversial High Court ruling earlier this year.

Professor Gerada, who is also an ex-chair of the RCGP, said: ‘Certainly, for serious complaints – as in this complaint – the complainant is left out to dry, isolated from their trust and receives no support and there is no code of conduct.

‘I need a charter that also incorporates how a complaint is managed, at the other end, the doctor and nurse end, because actually complaints kill doctors and they can kill nurses as well.’

But Professor Gerada said that doctors are working in a ‘climate of fear because patients are encouraged to complain’, adding that there is a code of conduct for dealing with patient complaints, but that the ‘complainant is usually left out to dry’.

A GMC spokesperson said: ‘We know investigations into fitness to practice complaints can be distressing for doctors, and we share a desire for complaints to be resolved as quickly as possible, and with as little stress as possible for all concerned.’

They said that a ‘wide range of reforms’ have been implemented, adding that they have improved the way they write to doctors ensuring communication is ‘clear and sensitive in tone’, and ‘remain committed to continuing to improve the way we handle complaints’.

Last week Pulse revealed that more than one quarter of black and minority ethnic GPs experience discrimination from patients at least monthly, with one GP explaining that patients ‘show dissatisfaction from the outset’ leading to ‘erroneous’ complaints about their competency.