Nearly all GPs have faced a complaint during their career according to a MDU member survey

97% of GPs surveyed have received a complaint against them during the course of their career, according to research published by the UK’s leading medical defence organisation.

The Medical Defence Union (MDU) in partnership with the Healthcare Leadership Academy (HLA) surveyed 741 doctors about the impact of a complaint on their professional and personal lives. 40% of the doctors surveyed were GPs. The survey found that for GPs:

  • nearly half of complaints (49%) were made within the last five years
  • 46% of complaints related to an alleged delayed or missed diagnosis, while 19% and 17% focused on an alleged delayed referral and breakdown of communication respectively
  • 40% of complaints were resolved locally within the individual’s own clinical team
  • 70% said the complaint had an impact on their professional life while 65% said it had also impacted their personal lives
  • 80% contacted their medico-defence organisation for support, 76% and 51% respectively also turned to colleagues and family members.

These findings also support the MDU’s previous research which found that 77% of GPs were concerned about facing a complaint related to the pandemic. GPs also stated that the commonest reasons for a patient complaint included increased waiting times for treatments, delays in accessing screening and tests, communication difficulties and consulting with patients online.

Looking broadly at all doctors, the survey also found that current trainee doctors received more complaints over the last year (38%) then either GPs or consultants (20% and 21% respectively). Consultants were the most likely to face a complaint due to treatment complications (30%) compared to 13% of trainee doctors and 5% of GPs.

Dr Laura Hulmes, trainee GP associate and HLA scholar commented:

"As a foundation doctor, I was peripherally involved in a complaint about a delayed diagnosis which ultimately led to a coroner’s inquest. Although my seniors all assured me I had done nothing wrong and my involvement in the overall case was minimal, I felt devastated and couldn’t take their reassurances on board. This created a lot of anxiety, affected my sleep and left me questioning if I was really cut out to be a doctor.

"Being so junior, I did not know anyone who had been through anything similar and it was only when the trust and coroner’s proceedings had finished and did not find any fault with the admitting team, that I began to rebuild my confidence. This has taken time but it has motivated me to support doctors, going through the complaints process, because I don’t think that this is something we talk about enough."

Dr Caroline Fryar, head of advisory services at the MDU said:

"While all doctors are likely to face a complaint at some point in their career, the pandemic may result in an influx of patient complaints resulting from issues such as delays in diagnosis, treatment and referrals.

"This is of particular concern as many complaints have the potential to become claims for compensation in the years ahead, which is worrying for many doctors. Consequently, the stress of dealing with complaints and claims far into the future could push many doctors to breaking point. It could lead to an exodus of healthcare professionals at a time when the NHS will be depending on experienced staff to get through the backlog of cases.

"At the MDU, our role is to lessen the burden on members and we encourage them to get our support early on if they are aware of a potential complaint."

This page was correct at publication on 11/03/2021. 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.