More patients are aware of complaints procedures, BMA says: Complaints against doctors at a new high

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COMPLAINTS against doctors rose by 24 per cent to a record high last year and the number struck off increased sevenfold, according to a new report.

Figures in the annual report of the General Medical Council - the doctors' regulatory body - show there were 1,615 complaints during 1992-93 and 30 doctors were struck off.

But the British Medical Association, which represents doctors, said the rise did not necessarily mean standards were falling, adding that one of the reasons for the increase was greater awareness about complaints procedures.

A BMA spokesman said: 'Since the publication of the Patient's Charter and various government targets there's no doubt patient expectations have increased enormously.

'Patient awareness of complaints procedures has also increased. This is not just confined to the medical profession. In all walks of life, people are more aware of their rights and they are more likely to complain.

'Nevertheless, we will examine the report to see in what areas complaints have increased before we decide what we can do about it.'

A total of 286 complaints were acted on last year by the GMC compared with 216 in the previous year. The council referred 162 cases to its professional conduct committee, which rules on the most serious cases.

Fifty-five doctors appeared before the committee, up from 43, and 30 were struck off compared with 4 in 1991-92 and 12 the previous year.

Thirteen doctors were suspended last year and three had conditions placed on their registration.

According to the report, there were 707 complaints relating to the care and treatment given by doctors and 908 relating to their personal conduct.

The report shows there were 89 complaints against doctors concerning sexual behaviour or improper relations. Fifty-eight doctors were accused of being rude to patients.

Seven complaints were made about doctors being violent or abusive and more than 100 allegedly breached professional confidence. The report also shows 27 complaints were made against doctors for abuse of alcohol or drugs.

In July, one of the most damning reports on healthcare in Britain was published. According to William Reid the Health Service Ombudsman, National Health Service managers give the impression they welcome complaints, but in reality they 'don't give a damn'.

In his annual report, Mr Reid cited 'awful examples' of lack of sensitivity and victimisation.

Little is known about the health needs of elderly people because few are invited to take part in clinical trials by researchers, who consider them as 'separate from the rest of the human race', a new report claims today.

Major inequalities exist in care offered to older and younger age groups.

The report, by the Medical Research Council, says older people have been excluded from many studies into incidences of disease.

This has led to the development of 'important deficiencies and misperceptions' and created a false picture of health of the old.

Data suggests that increases in life expectancy have not been matched by a decline in ill-health.