Carson McDowell Healthcare team hosts major medical conference at Titanic Belfast

20 October 2016


The medical profession in Northern Ireland is likely to face increasing complaints in the future as budgetary and time pressures impact on the health service.

That was the key theme of a major medical conference held in Belfast last night, hosted by the law firm Carson McDowell LLP. ‘Complaints Management: A Practical Guide’ took place in Titanic Belfast and brought together more than 150 doctors and medical practitioners. Speakers included the NI Public Services Ombudsman, Marie Anderson, Chair of the Medical Practitioners Tribunal Service, His Honour David Pearl and Michael Cruikshanks from the Health & Social Care Board.

The event provided an overview of the patterns and trends in complaints and explored how they can be handled in a more positive way for all of the involved parties.

In a survey carried out by Carson McDowell LLP ahead of the conference, over 70 per cent of GP practices reported an increase in the number of complaints received in the previous 12 months. Over 90 per cent of the practices surveyed said this was down to increased patient expectations, with 55 per cent attributing the rise to pressures on the health service and a third citing negative press coverage as a factor.

The most common reasons given for practice complaints were long waiting times (74 per cent) and communication issues (52 per cent), while doctors said some of the main issues they are facing include legislative changes, conflicting professional guidance, and dealing with abusive patients.

Last year complaints about health and social care bodies, made up 332 of the 546 matters investigated by the Ombudsman’s Office. In June 2016, Marie Anderson reported that 80% of the workload in her office related to health.  

Carson McDowell Head of Healthcare, Roger McMillan, said: “The health service is facing a range of challenges secondary to budgetary constraints and a growing need for its provisions. For front line medical and practice staff, the threat of a complaint, potential referral to their regulator or legal action as a result of the treatment they provide is rarely far from the front of their minds. A doctor is likely to face several complaints during their career and it can be a very stressful experience for all involved, patient, doctor and staff.

“Our event was designed to provide some direction on how complaints can be dealt with effectively and efficiently in a way which achieves a positive outcome for both the complainant and practitioners. By looking at the trends in complaints, we want to allow doctors the opportunity to take necessary precautions to minimise their own chances of becoming the subject of a complaint.”

Marie Anderson, Northern Ireland Public Services Ombudsman said:  “I was delighted to share my experience of good complaints handling practices at this important event, aimed at medical practitioners.  I am concerned about the increasing numbers of health complaints to my office, many of which could be resolved at the initial stages.  Complaints can be a source of learning for practices and effective complaints handling can help restore patients’ trust and confidence.”