Throughout the course of your career, you may encounter a time when a complaint is made against you or the services you provide.
We have collated some helpful advice and support below for your reference. We have also produced specific guidance for primary care services.
Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales operate separate complaint procedures:
Legal advice for doctors who receive a complaint
If you are subject to investigation or action by the GMC or other body you should contact your medical defence organisation straight away. They can offer you advice and legal support if appropriate.
If you are not a member of a defence organisation, you contact our BMA employment advisers who can provide expert advice and support.
Alternatively, you can get your own legal advice, at your own expense. Legal aid is not available to doctors being investigated under GMC procedures and you cannot claim costs from the other parties involved.
The NHS also has a duty of care towards it staff and your employer should offer you access to occupational health services and should ensure that proper confidentiality procedures are put in place so as to limit any damage from malicious complaints.
Receiving a complaint can be a very stressful experience for the doctor as well as the patient or advocate.
For help, counselling and peer support, doctors can call the BMA's 24 hour Wellbeing support services on 0330 123 1245.
They will be given the choice of speaking to a counsellor or details enabling them to contact peer support. These services are available to any doctor or medical student.
Call our Wellbeing support services on 0330 123 1245.
Other sources of support for doctors
The DoH has developed a guide called 'Listening, responding, improving: a guide to better customer care' which can be a useful resource for those involved in complaints procedures. It was designed to help complaints professionals and healthcare staff to learn from the negative experiences of patients and to improve services.
The Practitioner Health Programme is a service which provides confidential advice to doctors in the London area who are concerned about their own health and they too can help advise doctors through periods of stress. The PHP can be contacted on: 0203 049 4505 or by visiting www.php.nhs.uk
Many doctors are not particularly good at visiting their own GP when they are feeling unwell. GPs can be a good port of call for offering advice to doctors who are stressed or in difficulty.
Doctors are also advised to ensure that they have the appropriate medical insurance to meet the needs of their work - whether it is NHS or private practice. Please see below for further information.
The NHS Litigation Authority provides indemnity to employees in respect of clinical negligence claims. There are equivalent organisations in Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales.
This indemnity provides support for clinical negligence claims which arise from contracted NHS duties, but not for disciplinary issues, or referrals to the General Medical Council.
There will also be situations where NHS indemnity does not apply. We strongly recommend that you take out supplementary insurance with one of the medical defence bodies or provide yourself with other personal indemnity insurance.
BMA guidance on indemnity
Complaints and disciplinary action
The NHS complaints process requires a clear separation of complaints from disciplinary action.
Where a decision is made to embark upon a disciplinary investigation, action under the complaints procedure on any matter which is the subject of that investigation must stop.
Where there are aspects of the complaint not covered by the disciplinary investigation, they may continue to be dealt with under the complaints procedure. A similar approach is adopted in a case referred to the GMC.
If a complainant asks to be informed of the outcome of the disciplinary investigation, they will generally be given the same information as if the matter had been dealt with under the complaints procedure - what happened, why it happened and what action has been taken to prevent it happening again. They can also be told, in general terms, that disciplinary action may be taken as a result of the complaint.
If a patient is unhappy with the medical care they have received they have the right to complain. Patients can read helpful advice on the NHS website.
As outlined by the NHS Constitution in England patients also have the right to:
- have any complaint made about NHS services dealt with efficiently and to have it properly investigated.
- know the outcome of any investigation into their complaint.
- take a complaint to the independent Health Service Ombudsman, if they are not satisfied with the way it has been dealt with by the NHS.
- make a claim for judicial review if they think they have been directly affected by an unlawful act or decision of an NHS body.
- compensation where they have been harmed by negligent treatment.
The Constitution also states that the NHS will commit to:
- providing support to relevant parties throughout any complaint process
- treating those who make a complaint with respect
- ensuring that anyone who has complained will not have their future treatment adversely effected
- acknowledge mistakes, apologise, explain what went wrong and put things right quickly and effectively
- ensure that the organisation learns lessons from complaints and claims and uses these to improve NHS services