Complaint risk among mental health practitioners compared with physical health practitioners.

Recently published in BMJ Open was a paper by Benjamin Veness and others, entitled Complaint risk among mental health practitioners compared with physical health practitioners: a retrospective cohort study of complaints to health regulators in Australia.

The paper sought to understand complaint risk among mental health practitioners compared with physical health practitioners by means of a retrospective study of almost 8000 complaints over a 6 year period.

The authors recognised that distinction between these two types of practitioners is somewhat artificial because there is no bright line between mental and physical health. Many psychiatrists and psychologists treat patients with complex physical health conditions, and many other medical specialists and allied health practitioners treat patients with mental illness.

Nonetheless, mental health practitioners had a complaint rate that was more than twice that of physical health practitioners. Their risk of complaints was especially high in relation to reports, records, confidentiality, interpersonal behaviour, sexual boundary breaches and the mental health of the practitioner. Among mental health practitioners, male practitioners and older practitioners (≥65 years compared with 36–45 years) were at increased risk of complaints.

The authors concluded:

Mental health practitioners were more likely to be the subject of complaints than physical health practitioners. Areas of increased risk are related to professional ethics, communication skills and the health of mental health practitioners themselves. Further research could usefully explore whether addressing these risk factors through training, professional development and practitioner health initiatives may reduce the risk of complaints about mental health practitioners.