Patients are fuelling a rise in complaints about pharmacists to the General Pharmaceutical Council (GPhC), C+D has learned.
Complaints about fitness to practise rose 11 per cent between 2012 and 2013, growing from 833 to 928, the GPhC revealed in its council papers earlier this month.
The number of these complaints coming from patients rocketed by 39 per cent during that period, the regulator told C+D this week (February 18). Last year, patients were responsible for 60 per cent of the total complaints made, compared to only 48 per cent in 2012.
Many of these complaints were legitimate, the figures suggest. Nearly three quarters of complaints made in 2013 were taken forward into fitness-to-practise cases, compared with about 65 per cent in the previous two years.
|Pharmacy is not far off a TripAdvisor-type rating, where people will start voting with their feet, says Whitworth Chemists superintendent Jay Badenhorst|| |
More about complaints
GPhC chief executive Duncan Rudkin said he was keen to understand the reason behind the rise in complaints. Mr Rudkin highlighted that many of the concerns raised didn't lead to "full-blown" fitness-to-practise cases, so could potentially be averted by better complaint-handling.
"We all need to get better at handling things that don't need to result in a case," he told C+D. "It's better for patients if things are dealt with quickly and certainly better for the profession because... it saves money and time."
Complaints against other healthcare professionals have also risen. The number of complaints made to the General Medical Council (GMC) against doctors rose by 24 per cent between 2011 and 2012. But the GMC stressed last year that the increase didn't mean medical standards were falling and put the rise partially down to "higher patient expectations".
Amish Patel, owner of Hodgson Pharmacy, Kent, said these higher expectations could also be behind the rise in the number of complaints about pharmacists.
"Now patients are more willing to complain," he argued. "Personally, I probably complain more. I ask to speak to a manager whereas before I used to let it slip, so I think it's probably more of a cultural thing."
Jay Badenhorst, superintendent at Whitworth Chemists, reported a similar trend – partially fuelled by the digital age.
"I think that more people are willing to talk about their poor experiences and the growing [use of] social media plays a part in that. Whitworths has also had its share of social media attacks regarding false allegations that ended up at the GPhC," he told C+D.
"I do not think pharmacy is far off a TripAdvisor-type rating, where people will start voting with their feet and also take matters further if they are not 100 per cent satisfied with the experience," Mr Badenhorst added.
How to avoid an unnecessary GPhC complain
Ensure patients know what warrants a GPhC complaint
Janet Clark, LPC secretary at East Riding and Hull, advises patients to go to NHS England's local area team in the first instance. "I never suggest the GPhC unless it's a really serious concern," she tells C+D.
Assure patients you take their concerns seriously
It's important to show you've learned from any mistakes, says Graham Phillips, owner of Manor Pharmacy Group (Wheathampstead) Ltd. "Most people want to know you have done something to stop it happening next time," he says.
Ensure staff understand how to handle complaints
"Staff need to understand good customer service," argues Mimi Lau, director of pharmacy services at Numark. She advises owners to make complaint handling part of their SOPs and staff inductions.
Avoid being defensive
The NPA advises pharmacists to deal with complaints in an "open and professional" way – a thought echoed by Numark's Ms Lau. "Stay calm, be firm and listen to the patient," she says. "If they are angry, allow them to calm down." Pharmacists should also be willing to signpost patients to senior management if complaints can't be resolved at a lower level, she adds.
Patient organisation Healthwatch said the increasing volume of complaints wasn't "necessarily a bad thing". "It suggests that consumers might be starting to stick up for themselves more and demand their right to high-quality treatment and care," Healthwatch chair Anna Bradley told C+D.
The organisation urged patients to voice their concerns in its annual report last October, after finding that less than half of people who had experienced poor healthcare had actually made a complaint.
What do you think has fuelled the rise in complaints?