Fitness to practise complaints to the General Medical Council (GMC) have risen by nearly a third (30%) since 2004, new figures from the regulator reveal.
However, GMC Chief Niall Dickson says this does not “necessarily indicate that standards are slipping” but instead that health employers are more determined to deal with poor practice among doctors.
This is supported by figures showing a sharp increase in the number of GMC referrals made by medical directors and other public bodies. The figure doubled between 2007 and 2010, to 1,395 referrals a year, and amounts to one in five of all complaints to the GMC.
“We have come a long way from the idea of medicine as an 'old boys' club',” said Mr Dickson. “Our research certainly suggests employers are giving priority to detecting and dealing with concerns, and that has to be welcome.”
The GMC sought the views of around 100 medical directors across the UK, asking them to explain why more doctors are being referred to the GMC than ever before.
The results suggest the NHS has better systems for monitoring doctors' performance and that there is greater awareness of and commitment to high professional standards.
“Rather than keeping quiet about problems, doctors are more likely to speak up when they see anything that could pose a risk to patient safety,” said Mr Dickson. “And that is exactly as it should be.”
But he added: “There is no cause for complacency and we know there is more to do in this area.”
In response to the research, Dean Royles, Director of NHS Employers, said: "It is encouraging that the GMC recognises that employers are giving priority to reporting concerns and that this is having a positive impact on patient safety.
“Protecting patients is of paramount importance to employers, who have worked hard to improve procedures and policies for reporting concerns, making it easier for staff to raise concerns with confidence.
"Employers know the importance of vigilance in ensuring a culture where reporting concerns is expected and encouraged. The NHS Staff Survey shows improvements to the culture of reporting where the vast majority of staff know how to raise concerns.”