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GPs to have five days to apologise or explain when patients complain

As of this month, GPs in Scotland have five days to respond to simple, straight-forward complaints made by patients, and 20 days for more complex, high-risk cases.

Although this replaces a previous system where they had the same time limit on complex complaints and just three days to address simpler matters, GPC Scotland said the decision was ‘extremely disappointing’.

Under the new two-stage system, developed by the Scottish Ombudsman office (SPSO), they will step in to provide external review where issues are not resolved within the timeframes. A response to a simple complaint can include on the spot apology or an explanation, the SPSO said.

John Stevenson, head of the Complaints Standards Authority for the SPSO said: ‘The new procedure encourages staff to say we value your complaint and it helps improve the services we provide.’

The NHS is the latest public sector organisation in Scotland to use the system, which places more emphasis on early resolution of complaints. In local government, further education, and housing where it is already in place, 85% of complaints have been handled in the five-day early resolution stage, Mr Stevenson added.

The legislative requirements around recording, monitoring, reporting, learning and improving remain unchanged.

But GPC Scotland chair Dr Alan McDevitt said the system may be overly bureaucratic and inappropriate for general practice.

He said: ‘In particular, the timescales that this complaints procedure sets out will pose serious difficulties for general practice and it is extremely disappointing that despite our warnings, they remain in place.

‘It is unrealistic to expect small GP practices to have the same capacity to respond as large secondary care hospitals which employ dedicated complaints handling staff.’

Dr Jerard Ross, medico-legal adviser at the MDU, said: Extending the early resolution and investigation stages to five and 20 days respectively enables the medical professional, who delivered or managed the care the opportunity to engage with the patient and meet their needs within a realistic timeframe.’

He added they would be providing support to medical professionals to familiarise themselves with the new procedures.

‘We can help draft responses to complaints to try to ensure medical professionals resolve concerns first time and avoid the complainant taking things further.’

A recent YouGov survey of 2,000 adults found that 76% of patients think complaints could be averted if the GP issued an apology and the NHS Litigation Authority has rebranded as NHS Resolution as of this month, as it takes on a new strategy of resolving claims outside of court to a greater extent.