By: 7 December 2015
Half of doctors practise differently after being sued or complained about

Half of doctors practise differently after being sued or complained about

Half of 138 doctors responding to a Medical Defence Union (MDU) survey1 say they worry more about complaints or practise differently, such as by making more detailed notes, as a result of being sued or investigated by the GMC. A further 27 per cent (37) of respondents have either considered leaving the profession or have actually stopped working as a doctor and 10 per cent (14) suffered health problems following the complaint or claim.

The MDU survey asked doctors involved in a GMC complaint or negligence claim over the last five years for their views on how they found the experience. Some 45 per cent (62) of respondents said it was either horrible and the worst experience of their lives or very bad and disruptive. While 51 per cent (71) said they found the experience upsetting but manageable or unpleasant. Just 4 per cent (5) said it was neutral or not as bad as expected.

One doctor commented: ‘The fear of being sued never leaves you. Because of the experience I wouldn’t want any of my children to become doctors.’ Another explained that he thinks about the case every day and one clinician said she now feels physically sick every time she arrives at work.

Caroline Fryar, MDU Head of advisory services, said: “Claims and complaints are far more common nowadays than even five years ago and our survey provides evidence of the enormous stress they place on clinicians. Very few GMC complaints lead to a sanction on the doctor’s registration and in 2014 we successfully defended 80 per cent of medical claims without a financial settlement. But that doesn’t make undergoing an investigation any easier for the individual involved.

“Everyone deals with complaints differently but it can be difficult not to take the matter personally. Doctors often continue to work throughout investigations which can be lengthy. In many cases this can lead to sleepless nights which can affect doctors’ working and personal lives. In extreme cases clinicians can develop mental health or drug and alcohol problems which may impair their clinical judgement.

“Above all, doctors should not feel they are dealing with this stressful situation alone. It’s vital they contact their medical defence organisation as soon as they become aware of a complaint or claim or an incident that might lead to one. We can tell members what to expect and the process that will be followed and this can remove some of the fear of the unknown. In our survey, 90 per cent of respondents (123) said they felt well supported by the MDU and the legal team we provided.”

Further findings from the survey:

  • A minority of doctors reported positive reactions with one GP saying he felt that the investigation had made him a better doctor and an obstetrician who lectures on litigation said it was helpful to have been on the receiving end of a claim when talking to colleagues.
  • Nearly 40 per cent of doctors (53) said their case had taken between one to two years to complete but in 20 per cent of cases (28) it was three to five years and 5% of respondents (7) said their case took more than five years to resolve.
  • The most common incidents leading to investigations were a delay or failure to diagnose which accounted for 42 per cent of cases (58), followed by surgical problems or complications 22 per cent (31) and a delay or failure to refer 12 per cent (17).
  • In the vast majority of cases colleagues were supportive, just 6 per cent of respondents (9) said their colleagues didn’t support them.  One GP said ‘the support of my practice manager and staff, GP colleagues and my wife were just incredible.’

The MDU has published advice for doctors on dealing with complaints stress which provides further information on sources of support.

1 The MDU surveyed 138 doctors in September 2015.

Source: Medical Defence Union