Making a complaint about a doctor
As a patient, raising a concern regarding the care afforded to you can seem like a daunting process. This guide explains how a complaint can be made and what the outcome of a complaint might be.
Who do you make a complaint to?
The regulatory body that governs doctors is the General Medical Council (GMC). This is where you should make a complaint if you have a concern about an individual doctor’s professionalism or ability to practice medicine.
If you have a complaint about the treatment you have received from either a nurse or a midwife, then the regulatory body that you should consider contacting is the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC). Please see our guide on making a complaint to the NMC here.
Before you contact either regulatory body, you should make a complaint to the hospital Trust that employs the health professional. All NHS organisations have to follow the NHS complaints procedure which you can find out more about here.
What is the GMC’s role?
As a regulatory body, part of the GMC’s role is to investigate complaints about individual professionals in order to consider whether or not they are fit to practice. When considering whether or not a doctor is fit to practice, the GMC will consider a doctor’s behaviour including:
- serious or repeated mistakes;
- violence or criminal offences;
- abuse of a professional position;
- discrimination; and
- serious breaches of patient confidentiality.
How long do you have to make a complaint?
The GMC will only consider complaints arising within five years of an incident, but we advise that any concerns should be raised as soon as possible. If the incident you wish to complain about took place more than five years ago or your complaint has been rejected on this basis then you can write to the GMC Chief Executive to appeal this decision.
How do you make a complaint?
If you are not satisfied with the response of a hospital Trust to your complaint through the NHS process, you can complain about an individual doctor’s skills or behaviour to the GMC through an online form.
You should also send the GMC copies of the complaint you made to the Trust and the response you received.
GMC investigation process
Most complaints that the GMC receives are not investigated further. This may be because the complaint does not reach the GMC threshold or because they are matters that the GMC cannot investigate. Even if the allegation is not investigated further by the GMC then your concern will still be shared with the doctor involved and be considered as part of their ongoing professional appraisal.
If the GMC is concerned that the doctor in question may not be fit to practice then they will open an investigation. Once this happens, as the complainant you may become a witness in the fitness to practice procedure.
If the GMC do decide to carry out an investigation then this can take as long as a year, and in complicated matters could take even longer. As the complainant you will be updated by the GMC every eight weeks about how the investigation is progressing.
Any investigation may also include a review of your medical notes, which you would be asked to consent to if required.
Possible conclusions to a GMC investigation
Once an investigation by the GMC has concluded the examiners will review the evidence and consider whether any action should be taken.
The possible outcomes of a GMC investigation can range from:
- No further action – this could be because the doctor has made every effort not to repeat their mistakes or because there is not enough evidence against the doctor;
- Limit the doctor’s ability to practice – if the GMC believes that immediate action is necessary, then it may apply for the Medical Practitioners Tribunal Service to make an immediate order to suspend the doctor or restrict the ways they can work, such as not performing operations without senior supervision.
- Warning – the GMC may give the doctor a warning, which states that their behaviour was below the standard acceptable for a professional. Warnings are published on the GMC website for 2 years.
- Undertakings – these are formal agreements between the doctor and the GMC and they will set out specific conditions which the doctor will have to abide by. These conditions may include supervision of their work, limiting what work they can carry out or where they are able to work. These are published on the GMC website for 10 years.
- Referral to the Medical Practitioners Tribunal Service (MPTS) – the doctor would have to attend a hearing at which s/he may be struck off from the GMC register (and so unable to practice as a physician).