There will be few circumstances where this may be excusable, where a complaint is clearly vexatious or meritless it should be screened out swiftly by any management rather than requiring direct intervention from the doctor the subject of the complaint.  The imbalance of power and the position doctors hold will usually risk this course of action constituting misconduct.  Where a doctor applies pressure to a patient it risks serious regulatory consequences.

Patient A made a complaint against Dr M.  The complaint was in fact made under a misapprehension about Dr M that he was in some way frustrating her treatment.  The truth of the matter was that he had undertaken a great deal of work behind the scenes and had advised against a particular course of treatment because of the hazards involved.  Dr M was quite correct, his clinical decisions were unquestionable and the treatment did ultimately bring about significant relief to Patient A.

Whilst that is all well and good, Dr M behaved less well during a consultation with Patient A in which he coerced her into signing a letter he had drafted beforehand.  The letter concluded with her name, it indicated she did not wish to pursue the complaint and he told her that if she did not retract the complaint he would not be her friend and would not want to see her again as a patient (or words to that effect).  Dr M later sent the letter to the management at the hospital and was accused of doing so dishonestly because he knew it did not reflect the patient’s true position.

The Medical Practitioners Tribunal did find Dr M’s fitness to practise impaired.  They found that in acting as he had, GMP was breached because his conduct spoiled the public’s trust in the profession and all communications must be honest and trustworthy (Paragraphs 65 and 68 respectively).  Dr M did express profound regret and shame for his actions and he did apologise.  Dr M explained in evidence that he felt targeted by management at the Trust.  There was supporting evidence this was true;  there had been previous disagreements with management about patient safety at the Trust and he was concerned the complaint would be used by them as stick to beat him.  Moreover, the complaint was about a number of doctors and none of the other doctors were investigated or even interviewed.

The Tribunal accepted that Dr M had practiced without incident for over 36 years and that this was an isolated incident.  The vast majority of his 360 feedback was positive but there were other comments regarding the fact he was not a team player and could be rather intimidating to approach.  To maintain public confidence in the profession he was suspended for 12 months and no review hearing was listed.  Dr M had retired and gave evidence he had no intention of returning of practise.

Please note that the comments in this case review are generic, if you have any practise concerns please contact us for specific advice on your matter.