Complaints against doctors continue to rise

Authors: Caroline White 

Publication date:  30 Sep 2013

The number of complaints made about doctors to the professional regulator have continued to increase, figures from the General Medical Council show.[1]

A summary of the trends in fitness to practise procedures in 2012 was laid before the GMC’s council last week ahead of full publication in the forthcoming State of Medical Education and Practice report. The summary shows that complaints about doctors referred to the GMC rose by 18% in 2012, to 10 347. This is double the number made in 2007 (5168).

Complaints made by members of the public still make up the bulk (59%) of complaints, though the number of complaints made by the public rose by only 9% in 2012. This compares with a rise of 35% in complaints made on behalf of public bodies, such as NHS trusts, and a similar increase (34%) in “other” sources, which includes other doctors. In all, almost a fifth (19%) of complaints were made by someone acting in a public capacity.

Despite the overall rise in complaints, the number of cases that warrant further action has continued to fall. This is despite an increase in the number of potentially serious cases meriting further investigation, which rose by 16% in 2012.

The number of fitness to practise panel hearings also fell, from 242 in 2011 to 208 in 2012, continuing a trend seen since 2010. The number of doctors struck off fell from 93 in 2011 to 55 in 2012, the lowest number since 2008.

The proportion of referrals that did not proceed beyond initial triage rose from just over half (56%) in 2011 to 60% in 2012, replicating a trend seen in previous years. In addition, 75% of the cases proceeding to further investigation resulted in no further action being taken or were concluded with just advice. This figure has risen considerably since 2008, when 51% of cases resulted in no further action being taken.

As in previous years, the figures indicate that doctors who are male, from an ethnic minority background, or who qualified more than 20 years ago are more likely to be the subject of a complaint, as are GPs, psychiatrists, and surgeons.

Stephanie Bown, director of policy and communications at the Medical Protection Society, described the 18% increase in overall complaints as “disappointing.”

Referring to the high proportion of cases concluded without further investigation, she questioned whether complainants are using the GMC appropriately. “The GMC should be the port of call if satisfactory resolution is not achieved at a local level or if the issues are very serious,” she said.

The GMC is shortly due to publish the findings of research it has commissioned into the number and type of complaints against doctors made by the public, in a bid to understand better the underlying reasons.

But Bown nevertheless added that the figures served “as a reminder to healthcare professionals and trusts of the importance of having a robust and effective complaints service which can command the trust and confidence of patients and public.”


  1. General Medical Council. Fitness to practise annual statistics report 2012. 25 Sep 2013. [Link] .

Caroline White freelance journalist London

Cite this as BMJ Careers ; doi: