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Is that a complaint in your pocket or are you just pleased to see me?


Complaints, dontcha just love ‘em? 

Here is a selection of this week’s, some official and some spat out en passant:

  • Failure to recognise a barn-door case of cardiac failure.
  • Failure to arrange review of a significant heart valve problem.
  • Failure to provide an appointment about a shoulder issue.
  • Failure to respond to multiple messages.
  • Failure to prescribe the correct form of HRT

Which you’d think would make me feel, well, a bit of a failure. 

But it doesn’t, and that’s because all these complaints had sod-all to do with me.

I would say that, wouldn’t I? Yes, because it’s the truth. The responsible bodies were, in fact, as follows: another GP seeing a patient out of hours, the hospital failing to provide the promised hospital appointment post discharge, the musculoskeletal service losing a patient to follow-up, the same musculoskeletal service losing the lost-to-follow-up-messages about being lost to follow-up, and an extended hours GP having a senior moment, meaning he misplaced either his therapeutics memory, his BNF or both.

Which is not to say I’m infallible. I am, of course, perfectly capable of generating my own cock-ups,
but I do resent being caught in the fallout from someone else’s. 

The punters don’t care, though. While I’m innocent of all charges listed above, in their eyes, I’m guilty by association. It’s not their problem that I’m just the final common pathway for this uncommunicative, dysfunctional and discontinuous NHS nightmare where various other agencies can and do mess up ‘my’ patients. So years ago, when Michael Balint wrote sagely about the ‘dilution of responsibility’, where no one appears to ‘own’ patients caught up in the system, he was incredibly prescient, but not quite prescient enough to also predict the ‘concentration of culpability’ that we GPs have ended up with.

Which means that, while patients may have no idea who’s really responsible for their care at any given moment, they’re absolutely certain who they should rant to. Me. And even if I gently point them in the direction where their bile should actually be spewed, it doesn’t help. Because that tipping-point complaint just lights the fuse of two years’ pent-up, media-fuelled dissatisfaction with GPs – so they’re absolutely and self-righteously happy to use this as an opportunity to moan about anything and everything regarding the practice, which is why the complaint bomb lands in our lap. 

To cap it all, this same week, I received a letter from a consultant who was indignant that I hadn’t arranged all the tests and treatments he’d inappropriately asked me to arrange in a previous letter he never actually sent me. And this, of course, was cc’d to the patient. So that’s another fire I’ll have to extinguish, created by someone who’s nominally a colleague but might as well be a pyromaniac, just like all the others.

As one of the partners said to me over coffee the other day as we catharted about this latest form of torment, it’s an acute on chronically shit time to be a GP at the moment. 

Actually, it’s worse that than. But I’m not going to complain about it.

Dr Tony Copperfield is a GP in Essex. Read more of Copperfield’s blogs here


Patrufini Duffy 17 June, 2022 5:44 pm

The UK is best in the world for complainers – world-leading, numero uno – close to our special relationship transatlantic “friends”. Must be something of an ego-narcissistic-time-reality warped persona. Perhaps all the sertraline in the water systems is messing with human evolution. If it isn’t the racism over a football penalty taker, or their cancelled flight to Malaga or that contraceptive pill that isn’t ready before the weekend or same day appointment for a panic attack before going to work or bloated cramp after too much bread and beer.

Let’s not complain, I think of it as pigeons and peacocks. Not all birds are the same. Nor do they mix well. Especially with some woodpeckers thrown in.

Patrufini Duffy 21 June, 2022 1:37 pm

I have realised that the complaints culture – is nothing more than further Americanisation of UK healthcare. A progressive set-up. They are within the regulators and need complaints to engineer the law and tribunals industry. In America law is one of the highest paid professions – on billboards and every other magazine. And you are their prey. So either this country and it’s workers wake up, or succumb as it looks like what is happening, to the planned “feedback/complaint/monitoring/data/name and shame” plan that is ready for you. Some of you should take a working trip to America – and see what primary care looks like. Take some toilet roll with you too.