The Medical Council received 431 new complaints about doctors in 2019 - the highest number of complaints received in one calendar year.
The council, which is the regulatory body for doctors in Ireland, has launched its Annual Report 2019 and according to this, the number of complaints made about doctors last year was around 10% higher than 2018's figure.
In addition to the 431 new complaints received, 215 complaints were carried over from previous years, leaving the council to deal with a total of 646 complaints last year.
The Preliminary Proceedings Committee (PPC) is the committee of the Medical Council that investigates and gives initial consideration to complaints about doctors.
The PPC has a number of options open to it. It may make a decision that a complaint does not warrant further action or it may decide that a complaint should be referred to another body, authority, or a professional competence scheme. It may also decide that a complaint could be resolved by mediation, or it may refer it to a Fitness to Practise Committee (FTPC).
A case could be referred to a FTPC if it involved, for example, professional misconduct or poor professional performance.
In 2019, 47 cases were referred to the FTPC for inquiry.
Members of the public were the biggest source of complaints to the council, accounting for 83% of all complaints received. The second highest source of complaints was from other doctors.
Issues around treatment were the most common type of complaint received and a total of 485 doctors were the subject of complaints. Of these 485 doctors, 333 (68%) were male.
Meanwhile, the Annual Report 2019 also revealed that 36% of doctors registered in Ireland last year were under the age of 35.
A total of 23,555 doctors were on the medical register in 2019, up from 22,996 in 2018. Of these, almost 57% were male.
Some 59% of registered doctors had received their primary qualification in Ireland, 27% had received it from a country outside of the EU/EEA, while 14% had received it from another EU/EEA country.
The report also recorded an increase in doctors registered on the specialist register - from 9,577 in 2018 to 10,923 in 2019.
"We welcome the continued growth in the specialist register again in 2019. Doctors with specialist registration may practise independently without supervision and may represent themselves as specialists, usually employed in consultant roles.
"The specialist register is growing faster than other registers and this is a very welcome development for a health service which has a shortage of consultants," commented Medical Council CEO, Philip Brady.
Commenting on the report, the president of the Medical Council, Dr Rita Doyle, acknowledged the major challenges that COVID-19 has brought this year.
"It is obvious to us all that we are in a very different world this year than we were in 2019 with the onset of COVID-19 globally.
"As a health service, the challenges we faced in 2019 have been further highlighted this year, however significant progress has been made on a number of fronts and I highly commend the work of our public health teams and all doctors around the country," she said.
As the health service enters into what will be an extremely busy winter period, Dr Doyle urged doctors to look after themselves, as well as their patients.
"I want to remind you of your ethical responsibility to look after your own wellbeing and ensure you are getting rest, eating well, exercising and spending time relaxing. Your own wellbeing will be of benefit to those patients you serve and the wider community," she said.
The Annual Report 2019 can be viewed here.
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