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Giving complaints the cold shoulder



Okay, that’s enough, folks. By ‘folks’, I mean axe-grinding punters. Time to grind my own axe and start chopping.

I say this because, just this week, I’ve had two complaints. You can tell by the end of the first paragraph of Complaint #1 that this is a serial complainer who derives immense pleasure from the process, in the same way that some people enjoy pulling the wings off insects. I won’t lose sleep over that one.

Whereas Complaint #2 is a more formal threat to, I quote, ‘sue me for every penny I’ve got’ (ha!) because of a ‘failure to refer, causing suffering’. Which is partly wrong because I did refer, promptly and appropriately, but partly right because, yes, I am suffering.

This is becoming the norm. These days, I spend more time fending off complaints than I do patients. It’s time to strike back.

So here’s an idea. Patients who make an ‘official’ complaint about their GP should immediately be removed from that practice’s list. To complain about a GP is to forfeit the right to continue under their practice’s care.

Now, I realise that drum-bangers might have issues with this. They might say that a) Patients may complain simply ‘to get an explanation’ about a perceived problem. Or b) Patients are often just after ‘an apology’. Or c) Complaints are an opportunity to improve services.

Bollocks. Specifically:

a) Don’t call these complaints; call them information requests.

b) Saying I’m sorry that something happened is true, but unnecessary – unless I’m at fault, which is what such requests are trying to imply.

c) The sentence: ‘Complaints are an opportunity to improve services’ can only be uttered without a projectile vomit by those who are woolly brained/clad, and have never provided those services in their lives. My experience is that, actually, most complaints are an opportunity for the punters to be petty, vindictive or compensation-seeking.

Besides, given the negative light in which most complaints paint us – that we are idle, incompetent or have a ‘bad attitude’ – surely we’re doing the complainants a favour by removing them? Who’d want to be looked after by us? And, really, how can we continue a ‘therapeutic’ relationship knowing that, henceforth, there’s a gun aimed firmly at our temples?

What’s the GMC’s view? Good question. On the one hand, it acknowledges: ‘You should end a professional relationship with a patient only when the breakdown of trust… means you cannot provide good clinical care.’ On the other, you shouldn’t so do, ‘…solely because of a complaint the patient has made’.

Whatever. The way things are going, soon there won’t be any GPs to moan about because we’ll all have been complained to retirement/Australia/death. So chuck complainants off at the point of complaint. That way they might think twice. Sure, there would be some collateral damage – some justified complainants who suffer, a few who’d be intimidated into silence – but that’s what happens in a war. And I’m not complaining.

Dr Tony Copperfield is a GP in Essex. You can follow him on Twitter @DocCopperfield