Doctors are bracing themselves for a “wave” of complaints from patients due to the difficulties posed by lockdown.
A survey carried out by the Medical Defence Union (MDU) and GPonline found that two thirds of overall respondents (67%) feared facing a complaint related to the pandemic while more than three quarters (77%) of GPs did so.
Almost two-fifths (38%) of primary care doctors 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.
While the majority (87%) of doctors said patients had been understanding about the changes they had had to make, some doctors reported feeling that public sympathy with the difficulties caused by the pandemic was “wearing thin”, the MDU said.
The survey also found that 43% of GPs had faced abuse from patients compared to 24% of hospital doctors and consultants.
Dr Caroline Fryar, MDU head of advisory services, said that the MDU has supported members with 3,500 complaints and adverse incidents since the first lockdown in March 2020.
She said: “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. It 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. A quarter of doctors surveyed who had been involved in a past investigation, had considered leaving clinical practice or had left.
“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.”