Over half of all complaints against pharmacists are about this one thing

What is the most common type of complaint against pharmacists? And who is most likely to lodge a notification? Ahpra reveals all in latest annual report

Ahpra has released its 2019-20 Annual Report this week, revealing that 448 notifications about pharmacists were lodged with the regulatory body during the financial year.

Notifications were made about 649 registered pharmacists Australia-wide, representing 1.9% of the total profession (34,512 pharmacists).

The most common type of complaint (62.1%) about pharmacists related to medication. A further 8.3% were about communication, 5.4% about clinical care, 4% related to health impairment, and 4% about behaviour. Around 16% were categorised as “other”.

Over half (58.5%) of notifications were lodged by a patient, relative or member of the public. More than 13% were lodged by another practitioner, 7.1% were by a health complaints entity, 6.7% were the Pharmacy Board’s own motion, and 2.9% were submitted by an employer. Over 11% were categorised as “other”.

Forty-eight immediate actions were taken. Ahpra received 46 mandatory notifications about pharmacists over the financial year; 36 of these were about professional standards.

During the year, 13 criminal offence complaints were made relating to pharmacists. Eight were closed.

In addition 336 notifications were closed, with 10.4% of cases leading to conditions imposed on registration or an undertaking accepted. More than 13% received a caution or reprimand, while 1.2% had their registration suspended or cancelled.

Furthermore, 0.3% surrendered their registration, and nine percent of notifications were referred to another body or retained by a health complaints entity. However in 65.2% of cases no further action was taken.

Meanwhile 142 practitioners were monitored for health, performance and/or conduct during the year.

In 2019-20, 13,006 registered practitioners across all professions had a notification made about them nationally, an increase of 4.5% from 2018-19.

COVID-19 presented unique challenges for the regulatory agency.

On 6 April, Ahpra launched the temporary pandemic sub-register of medical practitioners, pharmacists, and nurses and midwives. Practitioners who were properly qualified, competent and suitable were returned to this temporary register, with the ability to opt out.

General registration was granted to over 1,900 pharmacists who had held general registration and left the register of practitioners or moved to non-practising registration in the past three years, enabling them to return to practice.

Pharmacists comprise 5.6% of the pandemic sub-register.

“2020 has shown us all how much we rely on health practitioners at the frontline to keep us all safe,” said Ahpra CEO Martin Fletcher on release of the report.

“We acknowledge and thank all health practitioners who have responded with such professionalism and commitment to keep us safe.”

PDL Professional Officer Georgina Woods recently provided the following tips for pharmacists to avoid being the subject of a complaint or notification:

  1. Slow down: “Really focus on your work and your checking procedure,” she said.
  2. Ensure you have enough resources: “I know that’s not always easy, but if you’re really struggling, it’s important to speak with your team or your manager or the owner of the pharmacy and just say, ‘look there just isn’t enough time to complete my tasks’,” said Ms Woods.
     “All owners have a responsibility to ensure that pharmacies are well resourced, and it’s important to be working in an environment where you feel like you have the confidence to safely check prescriptions.”
  3. Know the legislation in your state: “It’s really important to know the legislation where you’re practising or where you own a pharmacy,” she said.
    “If you know the legislation, it’s much easier to make decisions because you’re aware of the parameters that you have to practise in, and therefore it’s much harder to get into trouble if you’re not doing the wrong thing.”
  4. Upskill in communication: Upskilling, speaking with team members or listening to other people who are talking to difficult patients or dealing with complaints “can be really valuable, especially for an early career pharmacist”.

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