Nearly all GPs have faced a complaint during their career – MDU member survey

97 per cent of GPs surveyed have received a complaint against them during the course of their career, according to research published by the UK’s leading medical defence organisation.

The Medical Defence Union (MDU) in partnership with the Healthcare Leadership Academy (HLA) surveyed 741 doctors, of whom 40 per cent were GPs, about the impact of a complaint on their professional and personal lives and found that for GPs:

·        Nearly half of complaints (49 per cent) were made within the last five years

·        46 per cent of complaints were related to an alleged delayed or missed diagnosis, while 19 per cent and 17 per cent focused on an alleged delayed referral and breakdown of communication respectively

·        40 per cent of complaints were resolved locally within the individual’s own clinical team

·        70 per cent said the complaint had an impact on their professional life while 65 per cent said it had also impacted upon their personal lives

·        80 per cent contacted their medico-defence organisation for support, 76 per cent and 51 per cent respectively also turned to colleagues and family members

These findings also support the MDU’s previous research which found that 77 per cent of GPs were concerned about facing a complaint related to the pandemic. GPs also stated that the commonest reasons for a patient complaint included increased waiting times for treatments, delays in accessing screening and tests, communication difficulties and consulting with patients online.

Looking broadly at all doctors, the survey also found that current trainee doctors received more complaints over the last year (38 per cent) then either GPs or consultants (20 per cent and 21 per cent respectively). Consultants were the most likely to face a complaint due to treatment complications (30 per cent) compared to 13 per cent of trainee doctors and 5 per cent of GPs.

Dr Laura Hulmes, trainee GP associate and HLA scholar commented:

“As a foundation doctor, I was peripherally involved in a complaint about a delayed diagnosis which ultimately led to a coroner’s inquest. Although my seniors all assured me I had done nothing wrong and my involvement in the overall case was minimal, I felt devastated and couldn’t take their reassurances on board. This created a lot of anxiety, affected my sleep and left me questioning if I was really cut out to be a doctor.

Being so junior, I did not know anyone who had been through anything similar and it was only when the trust and coroner’s proceedings had finished and did not find any fault with the admitting team, that I began to rebuild my confidence. This has taken time but it has motivated me to support doctors, going through the complaints process, because I don’t think that this is something we talk about enough.”

Dr Caroline Fryar, head of advisory services at the MDU said:

“While all doctors are likely to face a complaint at some point in their career, the pandemic may result in an influx of patient complaints resulting from issues such as delays in diagnosis, treatment and referrals.

“This is of particular concern as many complaints have the potential to become claims for compensation in the years ahead, which is worrying for many doctors. Consequently, the stress of dealing with complaints and claims far into the future could push many doctors to breaking point. It could lead to an exodus of healthcare professionals at a time when the NHS will be depending on experienced staff to get through the backlog of cases.

“At the MDU, our role is to lessen the burden on members and we encourage them to get our support early on if they are aware of a potential complaint.”