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Number of written complaints against GPs continues to rise

The number of written complaints relating to primary care services, including GP and dental practices, have continued to rise.

NHS Digital data for England showed that there were 94,637 written complaints in 2017/18, compared to 90,579 in 2016/17.

This represents a 4.5% year-on-year increase, and – following a sharp increase in the previous year – a 14.6% increase in the number of complaints compared with 2015/16.

Around half of last year’s complaints were not upheld (50.4%), whilst 36.4% were fully upheld and the remainder partially upheld.

The data also showed:

  • Around 83.1% of the complaints related to GP surgeries and 14.6% to dental surgeries.
  • Across England, patients most likely to complain were aged 26-55 (45.6% of all complaints were patient age was known).
  • The largest proportion of complaints related to practitioners (GPs or dentists), at 44.2%, followed by administrative staff at 25% (similar proportions to the previous year.
  • 17.7% of all primary care complaints related to ‘clinical treatment’ (18.2% in 2016/17), 14.8% to ‘communications’ (16.0% in 2016/17) and 11.3% to ‘staff attitude/behaviours/values’ (11.9% in 2016/17).
  • Cumbria and North East recorded the highest levels of complaints relating to practitioners (48.0%) and Central Midlands recorded the lowest (40.9%).

The NHS as a whole, also including secondary care, reported receiving 208,626 written complaints during 2017/18 – 0.1% more than the previous year.

Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman Robert Behrens said: ‘NHS staff are working under immense pressure. It is a credit to them that the data does not show a significant increase in complaints overall.

‘The NHS complaints process is an essential channel to improving public services and we encourage people to speak up when things go wrong.

‘We owe it to the NHS’s dedicated and skilled workforce to talk about mistakes in an open and transparent way enabling organisations to learn from them, make improvements and ensure they are not repeated.’