Doctors are facing a wave of complaints coming in from patients who are frustrated about treatment and diagnostic delays during the pandemic, a survey has revealed.
The Medical Defence Union (MDU) and GPonline found that two thirds of the 1,203 respondents (67%) to a questionnaire said they feared facing a complaint related to the pandemic. This rose to 77% among GPs.
38% of primary care doctors said they had already received a complaint related to the pandemic. The most common reasons for patient dissatisfaction were increased waiting times for treatments, delays in accessing routine screening and tests, communication difficulties and consulting with patients online.
Doctors said public patience with restrictions on care was “wearing thin” while large numbers of GPs reported suffering abuse from patients.
Dr Caroline Fryar, MDU head of advisory services, said: “Healthcare professionals are dealing with a wave of complaints from frustrated patients waiting for treatment or further investigations because of the pandemic. The MDU has supported members with 3,500 complaints and adverse incidents since the first lockdown in March 2020. Patients have on the whole been understanding and doctors need to respond to all complaints in a thorough and compassionate way. However, with the latest NHS England figures showing that in December, over 220,000 people had been waiting for more than a year to start treatment, these cases are likely to be the tip of the iceberg. It’s concerning that many of the complaints have the potential to become claims for compensation in the years ahead, something which 60% of doctors told us they were worried about. The stress of dealing with complaints and claims far into the future could push many doctors to breaking point.”
She warned compensation cases could lead to an “exodus” of healthcare professionals at a time when the NHS will be depending on experienced staff to get through the backlog of cases. “We are calling on the government to take action to shield healthcare staff from litigation against the NHS caused by the pandemic. Claims are indemnified by the state, but are still complex, time consuming and stressful for those involved,” she added.
Doctors reported that while patients had been understanding about the changes they had had to make, public sympathy with the difficulties caused by the pandemic was now wearing thin. The survey also found that 43% of GPs had faced abuse from patients compared to 24% of hospital doctors and consultants. The MDU surveyed 748 GPs, consultants and hospital doctors in January and February 2021, while GPonline surveyed 455 GPs in February 2021.
Among the responses to survey, one doctor said: “I am constantly exhausted and finding it very hard. It’s such a hard time to start working as a junior doctor as we are under so much pressure. It’s very demoralising and has been hard to keep going into work.”