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Study finds lengthy investigations into complaints against doctors result in early retirement and poor mental health

A new study shows that lengthy investigations into complaints against doctors can be “cold and callous” – with one in 10 doctors leaving medicine or retiring early and one in eight feeling suicidal.

Moreover, one in ten stated that they had suicidal thoughts during the investigation, and the case of one doctor lasted for seven years – as determined by the Medical Protection Society (MPS).

These tests are carried out by the Irish Medical Council (IMC) to protect the public. However, doctors examined over the past five years told MPS of long delays in the process.

One of them said he was stressed by the “unfounded complaint” and “the seven years it took for the Medical Council to deal with this case.” In another example, a doctor stated that their case had “dragged on for three years.”

A physician reflecting on the board’s role stated that while its function is to protect the public, “this function can be exercised with empathy not only for the patient involved but also for the physician.”

One doctor said: “The Medical Council was cold and heartless and no one cared about the impact this process would have on my mental health and well-being.”

Of 117 doctors surveyed over the past five years, approximately 77% saw a negative impact on their mental health and 93% experienced stress and anxiety.

About 24% considered quitting their job, and 10% left or took early retirement. During the investigation, 12% of people experienced suicidal thoughts.

MPS deputy medical director Dr James Thorpe said he supported doctors in the complaints process and called for an “urgent review”.

We’re seeing the toll the investigation is taking on the mental health of those involved, and the survey results are disturbing. Members tell us that the length of an investigation has the greatest impact on their mental health, and unfortunately this is no surprise.

He also called on the government to initiate legislative work that would give the IMC the power to select cases and act more quickly.

In response to the survey, the IMC said it was aware of the concerns and that some of the recommendations issued had been implemented previously and others would be implemented soon.

Last year there were 29,488 doctors on the council’s register. They opened 353 complaints, representing 1.3% of doctors. Approximately 61 complaints were forwarded to the Practice Adjustment Committee.

IMC president Dr. Suzanne Crowe previously said irish examiner, understands from unpublished remarks that investigations could take “months or years” to complete.

“We often have to obtain medical charts from hospitals, and that is extremely time-consuming,” she said. “We need to get reports from experts, take them into account, meet again and discuss the cases.”

An IMC spokeswoman said the reforms aim to make the process more transparent for both patients making complaints and doctors.

She admitted that “doctors find dealing with complaints very stressful” and added that patients also find the process “difficult”.

“Our goal to take a more compassionate approach will focus on clear and timely communication, increasing transparency,” she said.