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Doctors accused of lacking respect for patients and having poor communication skills as complaints soar 23% in a year

The number of complaints against doctors has 'soared' Photo: Hugh Macknight/PA Wire

Complaints about doctors have hit a record high with patients more prepared to raise concerns about their treatment, a General Medical Council (GMC) report has found.

Since 2009, the number of complaints has soared - and in the last year alone there has been a 23% increase in the number of grievances lodged against doctors, figures suggest.

Grievances were mostly about treatment plans and investigation skills, but there was also a large number of objections about the respect for patients.

Doctors have been accused of having a lack of respect for patients Credit: Reuters

The number of allegations about doctors' communicating skills have risen by 69% in the last year and complaints about lack of respect rose by 45%.

We are investing more in this area and we are rolling out a package of measures both to protect patients and provide greater support for doctors during the course of their careers.

While we do need to develop a better understanding of why complaints to us are rising, we do not believe it reflects falling standards of medical practice.

Every day there are millions of interactions between doctors and patients and all the evidence suggests that public trust and confidence in the UK's doctors remains extremely high.

– Niall Dickson, GMC Chief Executive

Almost three quarters of all complaints made were about male doctors and 47% were made about GPs.

The highest number of accusations were made about about men and older doctors, according to the GMC report.

Psychiatrists, GPs and surgeons also attracted the highest level of complaints compared with other specialities.

Last year 8,781 complaints were made compared to 7,153 in 2010, according to the GMC. One in every 64 doctors is likely to be investigated by the regulator.

The Government is committed to giving patients a stronger voice in the NHS, so that people have a greater say in where and by whom they are treated and importantly to ensure the NHS learns and improves from mistakes when things have gone wrong.

The GMC is rightly taking steps to better understand and deal with an increase in complaints, but it is important to reassure people that this does not mean that medical standards are falling and complaints to the GMC are not always directly related quality of front line patient care.

– Health Minister Dr Dan Poulter

Niall Dickson, chief executive of the General Medical Council (GMC), has said that the rise in complaints does not mean necessarily that medical standards are falling.

However, the GMC believes that the following factors could be contributing to the rise in complaints:

  • Patients are now more willing to complain about discrepancies than they were in the past.
  • Patients have greater expectations of the doctors.
  • Within the profession there is less tolerance for poor practice.
  • There is better monitoring of medical practic.
  • More information is available for patients in the digital age.
  • Doctors are more willing to speak out and less willing to tolerate behaviour.

The GMC has said it is introducing a series of measures to deal with the rising number of complaints.

They include an induction programme for doctors who are new to the medical register, new guides on good medical practice for both doctors and patients and a new helpline for doctors.

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