Spike in complaints, regulatory action

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Pharmacists have been on the receiving end of an increasing number of complaints, and even calls to police over medication supply, says this professional officer

There has been an increase in notifications, complaints and regulatory incidents regarding community pharmacists during 2020, PDL professional officer Georgina Woods has told AJP.

“It’s been one of the busiest years in terms of complaints,” she said.

“At PDL we’ve seen many, many complaints and certainly a spike. Those can be very low-level complaints right up to those to regulators such as Ahpra.

“There’s definitely been a big increase in numbers which has kept the professional officers really busy, and we’re doing our best to support our members in this really difficult year.”

Pharmacists have encountered several challenges during the year, including access to PPE, stock shortages and mask wearing as well as changes in legislation—a big sticking point for some patients.

“We really acknowledge how hard it is for many pharmacists because some complaints are just a patient really upset for you trying to follow the legislation. And that feels really unfair but it does still need to be dealt with,” she said.

Ms Woods has spoken to quite a few PDL members who encountered difficult situations with patients, especially when the legislation changed around supply of salbutamol inhalers.

“We were required to ensure people had evidence that the inhaler was appropriate, which we didn’t have to before. Certainly a lot of patients found that very difficult to understand,” she said.

“I had more than one member where the patient actually called the police because they weren’t supplied with a salbutamol inhaler. It’s not really a police matter but it’s very stressful for our members when they’re put in this difficult situation.

“I had a gentleman in our pharmacy yesterday absolutely yelling at the pharmacist in charge because they had a digital repeat that should not have been given back to them and we were trying to discuss how to help them. Again he just didn’t understand and he was very aggressive. ”

PDL has not only identified an increase in complaints, but also in those that have gone to the regulator.

“Many of our complaints that have gone to our regulators have involved poor communication, or there’s just been a complete misunderstanding and even though you think you may have resolved something, sometimes if the patient doesn’t feel you have resolved or apologised well enough, they will take that complaint further,” said Ms Woods.

Communication skills are imperative at the moment. We’ve got anxious workers and very anxious patients.

“If you have the ability to de-escalate something, apologise appropriately, and be an empathic listener, often that will really help someone who is upset or expectations aren’t met, that will help you deal with the situation.”

However she added: “It’s not always easy. If someone wants to complain, they will complain.”

Further ways to mitigate risk of complaints suggested by Ms Woods were:

Slow down

“Really focus on your work and your checking procedure,” she said. “Ensure that there’s resources for you – and 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’.

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.

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.”

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”.

Be careful with S8s and ORT

PDL has also noticed a spike in incidents that involve S8 medications or the opioid replacement treatment (ORT) program.

“Proprietor oversight is a particular area of interest for the regulators, and we’re certainly monitoring that space closely. So all owners, I’d encourage you to make sure you know what is happening in your pharmacy, communicate regularly with your team, and keep an eye on all areas but especially S8 medications,” said Ms Woods.

Look after yourself

“Do your best, look after yourself, and have a laugh with your team – I think that’s really important,” she said.

Members can call PDL on 1300 854 838 for support from a Professional Officer.

Pharmacists can contact the Pharmacists’ Support Service on 1300 244 910 for peer support related to the demands of being a pharmacist in Australia.

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