The Medical Council has this week released its annual report for 2019, coinciding with the publication of a new five-year strategic plan to cover the period 2019 – 2023.
Whilst the report addresses the work of the Medical Council across a number of spheres, the information it provides regarding the volume, processing and investigation of complaints regarding medical practitioners is of particular interest.
1. Volume of Complaints
Notably, the report sets out that 485 registered medical practitioners were complained during 2019, representing 2% of the registered membership, which figures are consistent with numbers from previous years. In terms of numbers of actual complaints, however, 431 new complaints were made to the regulator, representing a record number of complaints to the Preliminary Proceedings Committee (PPC) and an increase of approximately 10% based on 2018 figures.
During the relevant period, the Preliminary Proceedings Committee formed opinions (i.e. a decision to refer the matter to a statutory inquiry or to take no further action) in respect of 388 complaints, representing an increase of 20% compared to decisions taken by the Committee during the previous year. In respect of 341 complaints made, the PPC ruled that there was no prima facie evidence to warrant further action.
2. Complaint Breakdown
Of note, the report recites that in recent years the Medical Council has received an increase in the number of complaints relating to ‘communication issues’ between doctors and patients. This increase is reflected in the statistics, insofar as the number of communication related complaints has risen from 126 in 2017 to 170 in 2019.
In terms of the source of complaints, 83% of the complaints received in 2019 were made by members of the public which is in line with previous years. Interestingly however, complaints by other medical practitioners doubled, with the figure now representing 6% of all complaints received by the Medical Council.
From a health complaints perspective, 8 complaints were made in respect of alleged relevant medical disability with 4 being for alleged alcohol abuse and 4 in respect of mental/behavioural illness. Interestingly, during 2019 no complaints were received regarding alleged physical illness or drug abuse.
3. Interim Suspension Applications
In addition, the report provides useful insights in respect of interim suspension applications considered by the Medical Council during the calendar year. Interim suspension applications are brought, ultimately to the High Court, under Section 60 of the Medical Practitioners Act 2007 in situations involving a perceived immediate threat to public safety. As such, the effect of the application if granted is the suspension of a medical practitioner’s registration and entitlement to practise, pending the outcome of a Medical Council investigation and Statutory Inquiry.
During 2019, 11 applications were considered by the Medical Council under Section 60 of the Medical Practitioners Act 2007, representing a decrease from 18 applications in 2018.
Although the Annual report provides significant detail in respect of various aspects of the Medical Council’s work for the relevant period, the complaints and investigations statistics and information provide for particularly interesting reading, especially insofar as they reflect significant changes in the sources and types of complaints. The fact that complaints to the Preliminary Proceedings Committee reached a record high in 2019 is perhaps not surprising and would appear to reflect the position on the ground. It remains to be seen however as to whether these figures will again be eclipsed by the 2020 figures, reflecting an increase in regulatory complaints generally.
The Annual Report can be accessed here.
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About the Authors
Kevin is a partner and Head of the Healthcare Regulatory team at Hayes solicitors. He has substantial court and litigation experience, having acted for a wide variety of plaintiffs, as well as on behalf of a number of insurance companies in the defence of personal injury actions.
Lyn is a partner in the Healthcare team at Hayes solicitors. Lyn advises clinical practitioners and indemnity bodies in respect of the defence of medical negligence claims and also in respect of the defence of professional disciplinary matters before Committees of inquiry.