It has been reported this week that NHS England is considering allowing CCGs to handle patient complaints about GPs, following criticism of the current system by a parliamentary committee.
The House of Commons Health Committee highlighted examples of primary care complaints from Devon, Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly being passed to a call centre in Leeds from where the issue is passed on to a commissioning support unit in NW London to be dealt with. The group of MPs said this instance ‘illustrates the opportunity for confusion, dissatisfaction of service users, unacceptable delays and breakdowns in working relationships’.
Prevention better than cure
Many practice managers that we’ve spoken to say they’ve long held concerns regarding centralised complaint handling and ‘complaint miles’. On the other hand, history, along with plenty of personal anecdotes, suggests that local resolution isn’t necessarily the answer either, so what do you do?
One radical suggestion is to change tack and look to reduce the volume of complaints by dealing with the root causes.
Taking into account the major symptoms behind complaints, here are a few ways we feel practices can cure complaints (we would love to hear your solutions too – let us know your perfect medicine):
Misdiagnosis – should we be looking to improve GP continual professional development via better training, clinical guidelines and communication?
Practice communication – Let’s make sure practice staff, as well as GPs, are providing relevant literature about illnesses and referring patients to support organisations such as Diabetes UK or Macmillan Cancer Support. This means better communication between GPs and practice staff is needed.
Alleviating stress – rapid list growth is fuelling pressure on practices (see our blog on this subject) so let’s do something about declining practice and GP numbers.
Prompt and sensitive handling – Practices all have a complaints procedure and with prompt handling and a sensitive reply many complaints can be nipped in the bud early.
Pharmacists – Can practices work with local pharmacies to ease practice pressures? Successful models do exist.
Funding – could the NHS free up more cash for practices to invest in additional staff and/or technology such as online and telephone consulting that would ease the pressure on GP appointments? What about funding to improve practice facilities as well?
Reception staff – are your reception staff always friendly and polite? One in 10 complaints involve reception staff so good customer service training is always advised to help dispel the myth that they are dragons (which we know they’re not, of course!).
At the end of the day, it would help if there was a reduction in red tape and bureaucracy that allowed practice managers to get on with managing their practice. But that’s a debate for another day…