Doctors choose their profession to help people. When a patient makes a complaint against you, it can feel like you have failed utterly in your job. Getting a letter from the General Medical Council is not something that any doctor ever wants to have happen, but if it happens to you then it is important that you act decisively and professionally to reduce the chances of such a complaint impacting your career.
Patients make complaints for many reasons. Sometimes a doctor has been truly unprofessional or acted negligently. Sometimes the doctor has done the right thing but the patient is upset, frustrated, or just feels like they were not heard or treated as well as they could have been. Some complaints are malicious and completely unfounded. The GMC’s job is to determine which of those cases is valid here, and ensure that the doctor gets treated fairly – as well as the patient.
If you are faced with a complaint, then the first thing you should do is discuss the case with a fitness to practise solicitor. Do not discuss the case with the GMC until you have had advice. If the patient is still on your books and wishes to be seen by you, then continue to treat them in a professional manner. If the relationship between you and your patient has broken down to the point that you feel the patient’s treatment would be impaired, then you can refer them to a colleague instead. However, the GMC recommends that doctors try their best to work with patients even following a complaint.
Write down as much as you can about the complaints so that you have clear records of everything, while it is still fresh in your mind. Discuss the complaint with a senior colleague as well to get some fresh perspective. Whether the complaint was serious enough to involve the GMC or not, the fact is that a patient felt the need to call in a ‘higher power’, and this means that there was a breakdown of communication. You should use that as a chance to learn and improve your practice. Find training opportunities and CPD courses, and put together an action plan to ensure that you get everything that you can in place to improve. This will help the GMC to see that you care about your patients, and go some way towards helping you with your defence.