Nearly half of all patient complaints about doctors are made against GPs, according to a detailed new report from the GMC.
The number of complaints against doctors overall has also hit a record high, with more patients raising concerns about their treatment.
GP leaders told Pulse that the numbers did not suggest a reduction in patient satisfaction with GPs, but said it was ‘far easier’ for patients to complain against GPs than ever before.
The total number of complaints to the GMC increased by 23% from 7,153 in 2010 to 8,781 in 2011 – a figure which has been rising since 2007.
The GMC’s second annual State of Medical Education and Practice in the UK report also found that nearly three quarters of all complaints in 2011 were about male doctors, though only 57% of all registered doctors were men.
General practice, psychiatry and surgery were overrepresented as specialties. Some 47% of all complaints made were against GPs, who represented 24% of those on the medical register.
But thereport said the number of complaints made against GPs was not surprising given the large number of interactions GPs have with their patients, and said there was no evidence that this points to falling standards of practice.
It said initial analysis suggested that greater expectations, an increased willingness to complain, less tolerance of poor practice within the profession as well media attention for high profile cases may be behind the increase.
Commenting on the findings, GMC chief executive Niall Dickson said: ‘While we do need to develop a better understanding of why complaints to us are rising, we do not believe it reflects falling standards of medical practice.
‘Every day there are millions of interactions between doctors and patients and all the evidence suggests that public trust and confidence in the UK’s doctors remains extremely high.’
GPC negotiator Dr Chaand Nagpaul said it was important to put the results in context.
‘The number of GP consultations that occur on a daily basis is far higher than consultations with hospital doctors,’ he said. ‘This, coupled with the fact that GPs have facilitated patients in making comments which includes complaints-many of which are constructive-means that it is far easier for patients to complain against GPs and this is something GPs can learn from.’
Dr Nagpaul also suggested that patients were more likely to make a complaint against a GP as they were an ‘easily identifiable service’ whereas making a complaint against hospital staff was harder because it was ‘difficult to pinpoint which element resulted in a problem.’
Dr Mark Porter, BMA chair said: ‘Even though medical standards remain high and the number of complaints is very small, compared to the millions of consultations every year, we should always strive to find ways of improving the quality of care.
‘It is essential that the new system of checking doctors’ fitness to practice, known as revalidation, does protect patients while also being fair to doctors.’
Mike Farrar chief executive of the NHS Confederation, said that it was ‘essential’ that doctors listened to their patients’ experiences in order to improve professionally.
‘We must keep a careful eye on these complaints. A rise may partly be a result of patients, rightly, being more assertive in voicing dissatisfaction about their care, or it may be something more substantial.
‘Employers and individual doctors need to analyse this data and look carefully at the cases where doctors have not met the standards patients expect, and what action they need to take when they fall short.’