Dissatisfaction with the medical profession soared last year with a record number of complaints made against doctors to the General Medical Council.

A total of 4,980 grievances were lodged against doctors in 2005, almost 100 a week, compared with 3,000 complaints, (58 a week) in 1999 and 1,000, (19 a week), a decade ago.

The figures, published by the GMC, come as UK doctors have been revealed as the highest paid in Europe, with some GPs earning up to £250,000.

The GMC struck off 42 doctors last year. Another 172 were suspended or had conditions imposed, restricting their freedom to work. In all, 251 were found guilty of misconduct.

The disclosure comes as the GMC launches an appeal today in one of its most high-profile disciplinary cases in a decade.

The GMC's fitness to practice committee struck the paediatrician Sir Roy Meadow off the medical register last year for quoting inaccurate statistics on the risk of cot death in the case of Sally Clark, who was jailed in 1999 for the murder of her two babies and later freed on appeal.

Sir Roy took the GMC to court and, last February, Mr Justice Collins ruled that expert witnesses should have immunity from prosecution and ordered that his name be restored to the medical register.

In the Court of Appeal today, the GMC will argue that Judge Collins's decision would prevent it from protecting the public when doctors acting as expert witnesses fall significantly below acceptable standards. The appeal is expected to last three days.

Complaints against doctors rose sharply in the late 1990s, fuelled by a series of scandals including the case of GP Harold Shipman, Britain's biggest serial killer, but had remained stable since 2000. They have resumed their upward trend in the past two years, rising by 25 per cent.

Patients organisations and judges have praised the end of the "doctor knows best" culture and the rise of a less deferential attitude to the medical profession.

But medical organisations have expressed concern at the increase in "doctor bashing" and its long-term effect on morale and recruitment to the profession.

Claire Rayner, the president of the Patients Association, said: "The rise in complaints tells you more about the Government's strategy of being patient centred and focusing on patient choice. They are encouraging people to complain."

James Johnson, the chairman of the British Medical Association, said the rise reflected growing consumerism among patients and the higher public profile of the GMC.

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