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Ombudsman threatens GMC action for GPs over removing patients from lists

Exclusive GPs could find themselves in front of the GMC if they refuse to act on Health Service Ombudsman guidance over improperly removing patients from their practice lists.

It follows a damning report by the Ombudsman last week – seized upon by the national media -which reported the growing number of complaints against GPs over the ‘unfair removal' of patients from practice lists, with terminally ill patients among those affected.

Director of health investigations at the Ombudsman James Johnstone told Pulse that cases could be referred to GMC if GPs did not accept their judgement on what was appropriate protocol.

Mr Johnstone said there was precedent for sanctions with a recent case of a dentist being referred to the General Dental Council after he refused to apologise to a patient he had incorrectly removed from his list.

The warning followed Ombudsman Ann Abraham's report which found complaints about patients being wiped by GP lists accounted for more than one in five (21%) of complaints about GPs investigated in 2010/11, up 6% from the previous year.

The report said the NHS was failing to deal appropriately with basic complaints and warned some GPs were breaching NHS contracts and BMA guidance by removing patients from practice lists ‘without fair warning or proper explanation'.

Ms Abraham wrote: ‘In the cases we have seen, GPs have applied zero tolerance policies without listening to and understanding their patients or considering individual circumstances.'

Overall the ombudsman received 2,581 complaints about GPs last year. But of these only 66 complaints against GPs (3%) were ‘accepted for formal investigation' by the ombudsman, patients' complaints upheld in 88% of cases.

Mr Johnstone said: ‘We do have powers to report doctors to the GMC where we have concerns about patient safety when we look into a case or where we make recommendations and those recommendations and they are not complied with.'

He said the Ombudsman did not expect many cases to be referred, but was ‘surprised' some GPs seemed unaware of BMA and GMC guidance on the issue. 

Dr Helena McKeown, a GP in Salisbury, and a GPC and BMA council member, said GPs should follow the guidelines but attacked wider media coverage of the report as ‘hysterical.'

Dr McKeown said: ‘This is just another case of GP-bashing. Virtually all GPs follow the guidelines and it is telling that of around 2,500 complaints made to the Ombudsman only a handful merited investigation and none ended up at the GMC.'


The Ombudsman's report in numbers

21% - proportion of complaints to Ombudsman which were concerned with patients being wiped by GP lists in 2010/11

15% - proportion of complaints to Ombudsman which were concerned with patients being wiped by GP lists in 2009/10

3% - proportion of complaints against GPs ‘accepted for formal investigation' by the ombudsman in 2010/11

Source: Health service ombudsman