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Complaints from patients hit new high in 2013, reveals GPhC

Practice Three quarters of complaints resulted in fitness-to-practise cases, the regulator says, prompting Whitworth Chemists superintendent Jay Badenhorst (pictured) to warn that pharmacy is not far off a TripAdvisor-type rating


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

Building patient trust

The ins and outs of fitness to practise

Complaints against pharmacists rise 8 per cent in 2012-13

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?

Comment below or email us at [email protected] You can also find C+D on Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook


London Locum, Locum pharmacist

Very interesting to note how the GMC said it was not due to slip in standards but higher patient expectations. Always sure backing for their members. GPhC take note

S S Locum, Locum pharmacist

Well said John Randell -anything goes wrong THE PHARMACIST TAKE THE BLAME.-
when anything is well done its the pharmacy team, when anything needs to be done then its the pharmacy team but when its to blame its the pharmacist !!!!

Pharmacist Pharmacist, Community pharmacist

Patients are complaining to the GPhC instead of company head offices. I appreciate why, as they feel they will get a better response

Clive Hodgson, Community pharmacist

I have been made aware of a couple of cases recently where the first the Pharmacist knew of a situation was when a registered letter arrived from a solicitor employed by one of these Claims Management companies inviting discussions about compensation.

Pro Re Nata, Community pharmacist

let the americaniZation of England wash over us + plus the huge variation in quality of pharmacy = more complaints

as always stop scratching the surface. we need to make drastic changes in order to have a happy and worthwhile future...

Clive Hodgson, Community pharmacist

A reason for the rise in complaints to the GPhC (as well as Medical & Legal professional bodies) is down to the tactics used by the “Claim for Blame” industry who are after new markets after a clampdown on motor “whiplash” claims

Not only are they actively soliciting the public for cases to pursue for compensation but they also seem to consider a formal complaint to the professional regulator may enhance the financial settlement they are after.

Unfortunately in the recent past an apology for an error may have ended the matter but that is less likely now due to these rather dubious companies.

Praful Soneji, Locum pharmacist

Following is an extract of a quarter page advert of a solicitors firm, from our local weekly free newspaper:

"We specialise in fighting your claim for your rightful compensation in the event of injury suffered due to:

1. Failure to diagnose
2 .Failed sterilisation
3. Prescription error
4. Dental mistakes
& two other.

Free Home visit and lines open 24/7"


The only way Multiples will take notice is when it hurts their pockets. Unless people complain about a service, things will never improve. If compensation due to errors leads to an increase in staffing levels in a pharmacy, I have no issues with it.

London Locum, Locum pharmacist

I agree Mesit. But the real victim is the poor employee pharmacist told to dispense 400 items on their own along with 5 MURs and selling sandwiches to commuters with no dispenser or counter staff. They're the one who gets struck off whilst the multiple swiftly install a new sucker on £20k pa.

John Randell, Non Pharmacist Branch Manager

Unfortunately alot of pharmcists will have to be fired and sacrificed before large companies look in the mirror and say "oh maybe its me and my processes that are not working"

For now we are paid to be the FALL GUY anything goes wrong your on your own...Companies try very hard to make it so that is anything goes wrong THE PHARMACIST TAKE THE BLAME.

Clive Hodgson, Community pharmacist

I would also agree with John Randal.

Everything has been engineered (such as with the Responsible Pharmacist regulations) to ensure that when anything goes wrong it is the Pharmacist that takes the hit not the Company.

Farm Assistant, Community pharmacist

Yes and who made the then RPSGB introduce the RP regulations in the first place? And of course they had absolutely no idea of the outcome. "Your enemies are always within your own household" The Prophet Isaiah.

M Yang, Community pharmacist

I agree. Not complaining and making a fuss is so typically British but sometimes you need to make some noise if you want positive change. When I worked for the shoe company, very few people actually spoke up when the area manager visited. Often, out of fear and intimidation, staff just lied and said everything was fine in terms of staffing.

I think it could potentially be a good thing for the profession. Acting as though we're beyond reproach is a sure way for public not to respect or trust us at all. I've always thought the increasing lack of trust and respect for doctors among the public (compared to previous decades), for example, is partly down to a widespread arrogance. Our positions grant us a certain kind of power but we mustn't lose sight of what we're here to do.

Farmer Giles, Work for a pharmaceutical company

Once again, I agree with you.

Clive Hodgson, Community pharmacist

(Apologies. Last paragraph above could be misunderstood should read...)

In the recent past an apology for an error may have ended the matter but unfortunately that is less likely now due to these rather dubious companies.

Calum Nelson, Locum pharmacist

Maybe we should ask Christopher Gibson QC. He's deputy chair of the FtP committee and also a barrister specialising in pursuing clinical negligence cases. It definitely isn't a conflict of interest. Same as the surprising number of FtP committee members who hold shares in pharmaceutical companies, including the chair (who I would never disparage because he's a barrister specialising in libel...and horse racing disciplinary matters). Not a conflict of interest.

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