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Trusts to handle minor complaints against doctors, says GMC

BMJ 2005; 331 doi: (Published 21 July 2005) Cite this as: BMJ 2005;331:178
  1. Zosia Kmietowicz
  1. London

    Complaints about doctors that do not involve any suggestion that the doctor is not fit to practise are to be handled by NHS employers rather than the General Medical Council, the council agreed last week. Also, any doctors being investigated for minor complaints will no longer have their name removed from the GMC's online database, as has happened in the past.

    The changes to the GMC's complaints procedures aim to speed up the investigation of minor complaints and to reduce anxiety for doctors.

    “We have listened and responded to patients and doctors who have told us the anxieties they have experienced when going through a protracted process, often involving delays due to slow responses from employers,” said Graeme Catto, president of the GMC. “The GMC wants to concentrate its resources on cases which pose a significant threat to the health and safety of patients.”

    About a third of the 5000 or so complaints the GMC will receive this year fall into what it terms a “stream two” category: allegations that do not raise any concerns about the doctor's fitness to practice. These might be brought by patients wanting an apology about their care or having questions about what went wrong. It is these complaints that will be referred back to a doctor's employing trust, as the GMC believes local governance bodies are best suited to investigate them.

    Another third of complaints are labelled “stream one.” These are ones that need further investigation and that might be serious if proved. The remaining third are what Paul Philip, the director of fitness to practise at the GMC, termed “frivolous,” often regarding issues outside medical practice, such as parking.

    If during the course of investigating a stream two complaint a trust finds that there are concerns about a doctor's fitness to practise the case will be referred back to the GMC. The GMC also expects to be kept informed of how investigations are progressing and will be monitoring trusts to ensure that complaints are handled appropriately.

    “We accept that some local complaints systems can leave a lot to be desired, so we intend to commit GMC resources to following up any returned complaints to make sure they are not being ignored,” said Professor Catto.

    From the end of July the GMC will also be posting any restrictions to a doctor's registration more clearly on its website. Although these are currently available on the site they are not easy to access. The move is the first part of the GMC's plan to make its website more user friendly to patients and prospective employers.

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