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Patient complaints against GP pharmacists rocket by 48% in a year

Written complaints received by GP practices in England about pharmacists working in surgeries rose by 48% in just one year, new NHS data has revealed.

Some 2,253 complaints about pharmacists working in GP surgeries were made by or on behalf of patients in England between April 1, 2021 and March 31, 2022, according to new 2021/22 figures published by NHS Digital last week (November 24).

It marks a 48% increase on the 1,521 written complaints against the same group that were lodged the previous year, according to the data.

Similar data on patient complaints about community pharmacists was not shared by NHS Digital.

While the number of complaints received against GP pharmacists has consistently grown year on year, the 2,253 recorded in 2021/22 is more than double (114%) the 1,051 received in 2016/2017. 

However, the number of pharmacists working in general practice has also risen steadily over the past few years.

The Pharmacists’ Defence Association (PDA) director Paul Day told C+D today (November 29) that “there are now more pharmacists in GP practices having more interactions with patients than ever before”. 

He added: “When this growth of pharmacist roles in that area of practice is taken into account levels of complaints are actually at historic levels. This is less than one complaint per pharmacist per year.”

It comes after NHS Digital figures published last month confirmed that the number of full-time equivalent pharmacists and pharmacy technicians now working for a PCN stood at 4,515 as of the end of September.

This has driven some organisations to warn that pharmacist recruitment into primary care networks is becoming detrimental to the community pharmacy workforce.


99,459 complaints lodged against GP practices


A total of 225,570 written complaints were penned by patients against England’s health service in 2021/2022, marking a rise of exactly a third on the 170,013 reported in the previous year.

This record number of complaints against hospital and community health services and primary care surpasses the 208,924 complaints recorded in 2018/2019 – which was previously the highest figure.

Read more: Full-time PCN pharmacist and pharmacy technician numbers hit 4.5k

In 2021/22, some 99,459 complaints were lodged against GP practices overall, the report said.

This was a 38% increase compared to the 72,087 reported in 2020/21.

However, of the 98,433 GP practice complaints that were resolved, 50% (49,186) were not upheld, the data showed.


Reasons for grievances


The top reasons for patients submitting grievances about GP practices included “staff attitude”, “communication”, “clinical treatment including errors” and “appointment availability”, the report revealed.

“Prescribing errors” and “prescription issues” accounted for 1,385 and 8,614 of all written complaints against GP surgeries respectively.

Read more: Underappreciated and lonely: the other side of the PCN pharmacist role

report published earlier this year by the King’s Fund identified key issues with PCN pharmacists' working set up including overwhelming workloads and a misunderstanding and underappreciation of pharmacists’ skills.

Meanwhile, last month the Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee CEO, Janet Morrison, warned delegates at a Sigma conference that the financially incentivised recruitment of pharmacists into PCN roles is "absolutely shooting community pharmacy in the foot".


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