22% increase in complaints against doctors

COMPLAINTS against doctors increased by more than a fifth last year, but people in Ireland are still less likely to complain than people in Britain, according to the Medical Council.

The council received 361 complaints last year, a 22% increase on 2009, according a report published yesterday.

It points out that, with 8,770 doctors on its register in December 2010, on average one in every 49 received a complaint last year.

The General Medical Council received 5,773 complaints in 2009 when there were 231,415 doctors in Britain and the North on its register.

The Medical Council’s chief executive, Caroline Spillane, said the number of complaints was expected to increase as more people became aware of its operations.

The vast majority of complaints made last year were about professional standards (160). There were 86 complaints about treatment, 30 related to failure to communicate or rudeness, while 22 were where a doctor failed or refused to provide a patient with medical records or reports.

There were 12 complaints for failure to attend to a patient and 10 were against doctors who may have had an alcohol or drug addiction or prescribed medication in an irresponsible manner.

The report also shows that there was a higher proportion of decisions made against doctors who had qualified in medical schools outside the European Union or European Economic Area by the council’s preliminary proceedings committee.

The committee reviews information it has gathered relating to a complaint and, if it decides on the back of that information that there is evidence of professional misconduct or poor professional performance, it refers the case to the council’s fitness to practice committee.

Last year 41% of the 54 cases sent forward for an inquiry related to doctors from outside the EU/EEA, yet they only made up 25% of doctors on the register.

Overall, there was an increase of 23 in the cases referred for an inquiry last year, compared to 2009.

It takes an average of four months between receipt of a complaint and a decision from the preliminary proceedings committee on whether or not a full inquiry should be held. In 83% of cases there was no need to hold a full inquiry.

The number of doctors supported by the council’s health sub-committee increased from 17 in 2009 to 21 last year, with the most common reasons being alcohol or drug addiction, mental or physical illness and infectious diseases.

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