The number of serious disciplinary actions taken against doctors by state medical boards nationwide did not substantially increase in 1989, a consumer group said Wednesday.

In fact, the overall rate of serious disciplinary actions against doctors declined in 1989, falling from 2.77 actions per 1,000 doctors in 1988 to 2.64 actions in 1989, showed a study by the Public Citizen Health Research Group."The data show that the country as a whole is going backward, not forward, when it comes to protecting the public from physicians who commit serious acts of negligence, operate under the influence or drugs or alcohol, or sexually assault patients," said Dr. Sidney Wolfe, director of the non-profit consumer group founded by Ralph Nader.

Public Citizen considers serious actions to be revocation or suspension of a doctor's license or probation.

State medical licensing boards, which are responsible for ensuring the quality of doctors in each state, took a total of 1,509 serious disciplinary actions against doctors in 1989, an increase of 20 actions or 1.34 percent from 1988.

This "insignificant increase" followed a year in which there was no increase in the number of actions, the group said.

The number of actions taken had doubled between 1984 and 1987, the group said.