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YouGov Survey: Communication a key trigger of GP complaints

Post date: 24/01/2017 | Time to read article: 3 mins

The information within this article was correct at the time of publishing. Last updated 14/11/2018

A YouGov survey of over 2,000 British adults has found that three of the top five reasons for having made a complaint about a GP, relate to poor communication and behaviour. 

The survey1 commissioned by Medical Protection, a leading medical protection organisation, showed that the top driver for a GP complaint was manner and attitude;
with nearly a third (32 per cent) saying this was their reason for complaining. The second most common reason (20 per cent) was due to misdiagnosis, and this was followed by unmet expectations (18 per cent), a breakdown in communication (16 per cent) and a poor outcome following treatment (13 per cent).

32 per cent – poor behaviour such as manner and attitude
20 per cent - misdiagnosis
18 per cent - unmet expectations
16 per cent - a breakdown in communication
13 per cent - a poor outcome following treatment

Communication was also a key factor for the public when asked what might stop them complaining about their GP. Eighty two per cent said they would be unlikely to complain if their GP communicated openly and with empathy. Seventy six per cent said they would be unlikely to complain if their GP explained the reasons why they could not meet their expectations.

Dr Pallavi Bradshaw, Senior Medicolegal Adviser at Medical Protection said: “Communication and behaviour sit at the heart of all GP consultations and many of the complaints we see against GPs are rooted in communication. This survey demonstrates just how important it is, with three of the top five reasons for a complaint relating to communication and behaviour issues. In fact, more patients cite behaviour such as poor manner and attitude as a reason, than a misdiagnosis.

“While most doctors appreciate the need for good communication, the importance of manner, body language and tone can sometimes be overlooked in a busy clinic and under the pressure of a 10 minute consultation. Making a patient feel relaxed and that they are being listened to, can make the difference between a positive experience, and a consultation which leaves a patient feeling dissatisfied and more likely to seek redress.

“Clearly effective communication with a patient around expectations is also imperative to the outcome of a consultation. Patient expectations are changing; doctors cannot always meet these, and have ‘Dr Google’ to contend with, which means many patients come to an appointment with a fixed idea on the treatment they should receive.

“We always encourage doctors to establish a patient’s expectations as early on as possible to prevent a misunderstanding on what is and isn’t possible. This can stop a patient feeling dismissed or that their expectations have not been met - and as this survey shows, in many cases can prevent a complaint being made.”


For further information, please contact Stella Zegge, Medical Protection Press Officer on +44 (0)207 3991 409 or email or Kate Ison, Media Relations Manager on +44 (0)207 3991 428 or email

Notes to editor:

  1. All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov Plc. Total sample size was 2021 British adults. Fieldwork was undertaken between 2 – 3 August 2016. The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all GB adults (aged 18+).
  2. Medical Protection offers a Mastering difficult interactions with patients workshop. Doctors who received training to improve their communication skills report a significantly lower rate of difficult interactions. We understand that dealing with difficult interactions with patients can be a significant cause of stress, yet the nature of most clinical jobs makes these encounters unavoidable. For further information, please click here.
  3. Medical Protection also offers whole day Masterclasses, which give doctors the opportunity to test a range of skills (including assessing and managing patient expectations and practising shared decision making) on professional actors. Doctors highly rate the feedback received from the actors and from the clinicians who run these. For further information, please click here.
  4. Dr Pallavi Bradshaw is a senior medicolegal adviser at Medical Protection. She graduated from St Catharine’s College, Cambridge, gaining a BA (Hons) with a dissertation in Medical Law and Ethics. She trained at Addenbrooke’s Hospital and graduated from the clinical school in December 2001.
  5. An infographic is available on request

About Medical Protection

Medical Protection is a trading name of The Medical Protection Society Limited (“MPS”). The Medical Protection Society Limited (“MPS”) is the world’s leading protection organisation for doctors, dentists and healthcare professionals. We protect and support the professional interests of more than 300,000 members around the world. Membership provides access to expert advice and support together with the right to request indemnity for complaints or claims arising from professional practice.   

Our in-house experts assist with the wide range of legal and ethical problems that arise from professional practice. This can include clinical negligence claims, complaints, medical and dental council inquiries, legal and ethical dilemmas, disciplinary procedures, inquests and fatal accident inquiries.

Our philosophy is to support safe practice in medicine and dentistry by helping to avert problems in the first place. We do this by promoting risk management through our workshops, E-learning, clinical risk assessments, publications, conferences, lectures and presentations.

MPS is not an insurance company. All the benefits of membership of MPS are discretionary as set out in the Memorandum and Articles of Association.

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