We welcome this paper which looks at the impact of complaints on doctors, including a small proportion who have been referred to the GMC. It is a valuable contribution to an important and difficult issue which we take seriously and are actively addressing.
The number of complaints about doctors and other health professionals continues to rise and anyone who is subject to an investigation is bound to find it stressful, especially if the national regulator is involved. But, of course, our purpose is to protect patients and when serious allegations are made, we do need to investigate to establish if there is a case to answer.
At the same time, we have a duty of care to these doctors. That is why we are doing more than ever to reduce the stress of our investigations, by offering support and doing everything we can to reduce the time doctors are in our processes.
Since 2012 we have introduced a new support service run by the BMA for any doctor in our procedures, we are referring less serious complaints to be dealt with locally, we have introduced meetings with doctors to resolve cases more quickly and established the autonomous Medical Practitioners Tribunal Service which is also taking steps to speed up the process.
We recently published an independent review of doctors who had, or might have, committed suicide while under investigation and following that we have committed to a major review of how we support vulnerable doctors under investigation.
All these measures have been widely welcomed, including by doctors in our procedures. We know there is more to be done and we are calling on all the political parties to introduce major reforms to our legal framework and that of other professional regulators.
We are determined to reduce the stress of our investigations and make sure that doctors feel supported during what we know can be a traumatic time but as this study acknowledges we are ‘the tip of the iceberg’ for complaints about doctors.
The vast majority of complaints are handled locally and, as the Clwyd Hart report demonstrated, action is needed at that level as well.