A GP was concerned to receive a number of calls from an ex-patient on his home telephone number. The patient, who had left the list after moving out of the local area four months previously, mainly called late at night, appeared to be inebriated, and left lengthy messages expressing her unhappiness with her new GP and the NHS in general.
The messages were becoming increasingly threatening in tone and the GP contacted the MDU for advice. He said he believed the out-of-hours answering service had inadvertently disclosed his number to the ex-patient, whom he described as quite manipulative with an anti-social personality disorder.
The MDU adviser recommended that the member kept a complete log of all inappropriate contact from the patient, recording the time, date and method of contact. This information might be necessary as evidence at a later stage.
Some patients respond to a firm request to desist from this kind of inappropriate contact. It was suggested that, in the first instance, the member should try to answer the next call and explain to the patient that this was not an appropriate way to address her concerns about her new GP, and she should instead approach her new practice directly (or the PCT if she felt unable to correspond directly with the practice) to have her concerns dealt with through the NHS complaints procedure.
The next time the patient called the GP answered the call and tried this approach but the patient apparently ignored the advice and the late night calls continued. On the MDU's advice, the GP then spoke to his telephone provider to enquire whether calls to his home from the patient could be blocked but, despite this, occasional calls continued, apparently made from other locations.
At this point the MDU wrote directly to the patient with a formal request that the patient stop contacting the GP. The letter advised the patient that the calls were unwelcome and might be construed as harassment.
If the patient had concerns about NHS services provided by the practice or elsewhere then these should be raised through the proper channels using the NHS complaints procedure.
Had the patient continued to make unnecessary and unwelcome calls to the GP then a further step may have been for the MDU to apply to the courts for an injunction under Section 3 of the Protection from Harassment Act 1997.
However, difficulties occasionally arise if these injunctions are breached and patients are imprisoned, resulting in further harassment and occasionally violence on their release.
In the event the letter served its purpose and the telephone calls stopped.
The member was advised to take the opportunity to remind the out-of-hours answering service of its duties under data protection legislation to ensure that personal data (in this case the doctor's home telephone number) is not disclosed improperly.
This page was correct at publication on 01/05/2009. Any guidance is intended as general guidance for members only. If you are a member and need specific advice relating to your own circumstances, please contact one of our advisers.