Doctors communication skills criticised

Medical council annual report finds diagnoses and communication skills an issue


Doctors’ communications skills - or the lack of them - and the quality of their diagnoses represented the majority of complaints about doctors to the Medical Council in 2013.

According to the council’s annual report 400 complaints were filed against 503 doctors.

The council, which is responsible for education and policing professional standards, struck off four doctors during the year.

The vast majority complaints, 335, were made by members of the public, followed by 28 from other healthcare professionals, 14 from the medical council itself, and seven from private care institutions. Just one complaint about a doctor was made by the HSE. Solicitors acting for clients made nine complaints.

Under the classification “responsibilities to patients” 114 of the 400 complaints made last year raised issues of doctors’ communication skills. Another 123 complaints raised issues with doctors’ diagnoses. A total of 34 complaints were made under the heading “treating patients with dignity”, 46 under the heading “appropriate professional skills” and 15 under the hearing “physical and intimate examinations”.

One complaint was made against a doctor under the heading “alcohol abuse”, three under the heading “drug abuse”, five under “mental or behavioural illness” on the part of doctors and one under the heading “physical illness”.

Professor Freddie Wood, chairman of the medical council, said a new framework was now in place to address the communication difficulties between doctors and their patients. He said medical professionals must explain issues and outcomes to patients and this should be done early so the patient was not left in a position that they had to make a formal complaint.

The number of complaints at 400 represents a drop on the 423 complaints which were made in 2012. However the number of doctors whose conduct was covered by those complaints rose from 494 in 2012 to 503 in 2013.

The impact of the departure of young doctors from the medical register was also emphasised by the council. It said newly qualified doctors were leaving Ireland in high numbers. Preliminary data from the council’s forthcoming report on the medical workforce shows that 10 per cent of doctors aged 25 to 29 chose to leave the medical register in 2013.

The council has undertaken a national trainee experience survey, to measure views on issues such as career intentions, the learning environment, health and wellbeing and emigration.

Medical Council chief executive Caroline Spillane said the report for 2013 highlighted the need to keep talented doctors within the Irish health service. She said there needs to be “a continued system-wide focus on making sure the working environment in Ireland encourages the best and brightest doctors to practise here.”

There were 18,160 doctors registered with the Medical Council in 2013, down from 18,184 in 2012 and 18, 770 in 2010.

The full report is available on