General Medical Council (GMC) officials made a record number of investigations into complaints against 5539 doctors in 2002 - 4% more than in 2001. There was also an increase in the number of doctors struck off or banned from practising, and of doctors placed under supervision or restricted from practising.

Most of the complaints made were dismissed, as in previous years, because of a lack of evidence or because the complaint did not fall under the GMC's remit. Paul Philip, Director of Fitness to Practise at the GMC, said the increased number of investigations was due to tackling a backlog. He said:

"Over the past five years, the GMC experienced a significant rise in the number of complaints received. This resulted in a backlog of cases waiting for hearings. Recognising this we increased the number of hearings to six a day and the backlog has now been cleared. Last year the number of complaints received fell for the first time since 1995. We are now confident that all complaints can be dealt with in a timely fashion."

According to the 2002 figures, of those complaints that resulted in an investigation, most concerned the clinical care doctors provided. However, the GMC did investigate a large number of cases where doctors had been accused of dishonesty, sexual assault or indecency.

The professional conduct committee investigated 238 cases in 2002. Of these, 72 cases resulted in the doctor being either banned or suspended from practising medicine (compared to 53 in 2001), and 62 doctors were either reprimanded or had restrictions placed on their practice (compared to 46 in 2001).

Last year more doctors were investigated by the GMC due to concerns about their health. Many of these doctors had alcohol or drugs problems, or both. Some were suffering from mental illness. However, although officials investigated more cases in 2002, they decided to take action against fewer doctors.