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One of the key functions of the Medical Council is to respond to complaints about Doctors through its Fitness to Practice Procedures.   Through the Regulation of Doctors, the Medical Council enhances patients safety in Ireland.   It is an independent statutory body.    The objective of the Council is to ensure that good medical practices are followed.

The Medical Council can investigate a complaint.   It can take action following an investigation to safeguard the public and to support the Doctor in maintaining good practices.   By handling complaints in this way, the Medical Council is working towards ensuring that high standards are maintained among Doctors.   The feedback and lessons learned from complaints can contribute to improving Medical Practices.

It would appear that the level of Complaints to the Council are between 5 and 10 per week.  The majority are made by the public but some complaints are made by fellow medical professionals.   Where a complaint is made, the Preliminary Proceedings Committee (PPC) investigates.   No complaint is closed without being fully investigated.   A Case Officer is appointed and liaises personally with the Complainant and the Doctor.  The objective is to gather information.

The PPC can refer the complaint for an enquiry under the Fitness to Practice Committee (FTPC) if it believes that the matter raises concerns regarding a Doctor’s practice and is sufficiently serious to register an oral enquiry.

Where there is an enquiry, it is held in public and sworn evidence is taken.  The Committee consists of two non-medical and one medical person.   At the end of an enquiry the findings are given together with rationale for those findings.   If a finding is made against the Doctor then the report is considered by the Medical Council which determines the sanction to be applied.

The Medical Council recently published a brief quantitative and qualitative review of complaints for the period 2008 to 2012 under the title “LISTENING TO COMPLAINTS”.   Some of the findings make interesting reading.

The quantitative aspect of the review made a number of findings to include the following:-


  • 86% of complaints were from members of the public.
  • Certain groups of Doctors were more likely to be subject to a complaint to the Medical Council:-
  • Males, older Doctors, Doctors who qualified in Ireland and Specialists.
  • In the period 2008-2012, a 11% of cases considered by the PPC went forward to enquiry by the FTPC.
  • 27% of cases considered by the Medical Council were subject to a high impact sanction.
  • The finding that some Doctors are more complaint-prone than others is interesting.   Female Doctors are less likely to be complained of as are younger Doctors in the twenty to thirty five year age group.  Doctors who qualified outside Ireland were less likely to be complained of.

None specialist Doctors were also less likely to be complained of.

On the qualitative review it was concluded that poor communication was an aspect of professional practice that emerged as a key factor in complaints against Doctors.   This would support recent American research which attributes considerable levels of medical malpractice to poor communication.

Finally, the report concluded that the increased level of complaints marked a changing relationship between the individual patient and Doctor with less deference and a greater willingness to raise questions.   Furthermore, the report found that many patients now see making a complaint as an altruistic step taken in the wider public interest.


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