Tuesday 21 January 2020

Doctors told to be more honest and open with patients instead of allowing complaints to escalate to the Medical Council

Freddie Wood
Freddie Wood

Eilish O’Regan

Doctors have been told they need to be more honest and open with patients instead of allowing complaints to escalate to the Medical Council, the body which regulates medics.

Prof Freddie Wood, President of the Medical Council, said many of the patient complaints it receives could be solved at hospital level if the grievance was properly acknowledged and explained.

Prof Wood, in a letter to doctors, said: ”It’s important that you’re supported to fulfil your ethical duty to be open and honest with your patients, and many complaints would be resolved to the satisfaction of patients and to the benefit of the wider health system if an event was simply acknowledged, explained and learned from.

“Many of the complaints that arrive at our door do not relate to doctors’ fitness to practise and could be resolved more effectively locally. We have raised these issues with employers and discussed with indemnifiers.

“On the flip side, where there are fitness to practise concerns, there is a professional duty to contact the regulator and we have raised this issue on numerous occasions with employers so that we can encourage greater information sharing within the health sector in the interests of patient safety.”

Prof Wood said the Council is reducing the registration fee for doctors at the beginning of their careers and it is is very conscious of the financial burden it places on them.

The fee to retain registration will be reduced by 7.5pc to €560 for doctors in the first three years on the medical register. It is also removing the transfer fee for verifying qualifications when doctors complete their internships. Fees for all other doctors under 70 will remain unchanged.

“We are examining every aspect of our role to look at where we can bring about improvements and reduce costs. We are committed to appropriate transparency in our work, and go into great detail in our audited accounts so you can see where registration fees are spent.

The Council is also examining ways on how to improve the way complaints are handled.

“There’s agreement that it’s in the best interests of both the profession and the public for doctors who are unfit to practise medicine to be removed from the register.

“However, at the Medical Council we are acutely aware that the process in which complaints are dealt with can place a significant amount of stress on both patients and doctors.

“As President of the Medical Council and also as a doctor who has been publicly censured by this very body I fully understand the harsh realities of falling foul of the regulator, and feel I have a responsibility to ensure this process is as well-structured and effective as it possibly can be.”

He said the Council is working with the Department of Health on amendments to legislation to help us streamline our processes in the interests of patient safety.

“Amongst the changes sought are mechanisms to deal with less serious complaints in an effective and expeditious manner.  Greater powers are being sought for the committee that triages complaints, so that there are more avenues for effective and timely resolution."

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