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Health Insight March 2001:
Dealing with rising complaints
Return to the main health insight page | the main March 2001 Health insight page

The General Medical Council has reported a substantial increase in the number of complaints it has received about doctors. A total of 4,470 complaints reached the GMC last year, a rise of fifty per cent in 1999. The GMC attributes the rise to a number of high-profile cases in the media, leading to an increased public awareness of the GMC, and the current tendency of people in the UK to become more quality conscious.

It has been necessary for the GMC to speed up its complaints procedures. A target was set last August of closing 80% of cases within six months of them being presented. By January this year, seventy-seven per cent of cases were being handled within this time limit. The GMC says this means it is now working twice as fast as previously. Seventy-three non-GMC members have already been recruited and there are plans to double this number. The GMC has three panels sitting at any one time, which it intends to increase to four later this year. (A quarter of the complaints received by the GMC last year did not relate to the performance of doctors; they were passed on to other agencies as appropriate.)

BMA Council Chairman Dr Ian Bogle has said doctors must fight back against the rising tide of complaints and against attacks in the media: 'We supported appraisal, clinical audit, continuing professional development and peer review as the four basic pillars [but] having doctors looking over their shoulders all the time is not in patients' interests and unless we stand up for ourselves we will lose the medical services we have today'.

The BMA and the UK Academy of Medical Royal Colleges have recently urged the GMC to modify its planned reforms. The GMC itself favours a small executive backed by a 200-strong conference of doctors and lay people. The BMA and the Academy would prefer the executive to be backed by a council with just fifty members. The BMA and the Academy strongly believe that, whilst some doctors on the council should be appointed, there must be an absolute majority who are elected. They also want an open and transparent system for appointing lay members.

BMA Review 24 February
BMJ 3 and 24 February

Return to the main health insight page | the main March 2001 Health insight page

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