Complaints against doctors: Behind the statistics

Everyone likes a good moan - about the weather, the trains or the doctor. And according to the General Medical Council (GMC), more and more of us are complaining about our doctors.

The GMC report suggests a 23% increase in complaints against doctors last year Credit: David Jones/PA Wire

The number of complaints to the GMC increased by 23 percent from 7,153 in 2010 to 8,781 in 2011. The likelihood that the GMC will investigate a doctor increased from one in 68 in 2010 to one in 64 in 2011.

Enough statistics. What's really going on? The first thing to say is that there are millions of consultations between doctors and patients every year. So that figure of 8,781 doesn't look quite so big.

Secondly, many complaints are not about matters which call into question the doctor’s fitness to practice. They're about how doctors talk to patients and whether they show respect.

Thirdly, the GMC says its analysis of the stats shows that they don't mean medical standards are falling. Rather patients are more willing to complain.

Their expectations of the services doctors offer are higher. And we journalists have encouraged people to complain by publicising some high-profile failures.

In other words, more complaints don't mean doctors are getting worse, they mean patients are getting pickier and stroppier. And why not? We pay for the NHS, so we've every right to complain when it doesn't do well enough.

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