Practice managers are being advised about their central role in the new complaints procedure by the Medical Defence Union (MDU).
An article in the latest edition of inpractice, the MDU's journal for practice managers, advises them about their enhanced role in handling complaints because of the additional responsibilities introduced by the new NHS and social care complaints procedure, which took effect in England on 1 April 2009.
Additional responsibilities could include: ensuring the complaints procedure is well publicised; establishing a protocol for signing off on all complaint responses; and producing an annual report of complaints for the PCT.
Dr John Holden, MDU medicolegal adviser and author of the article, said: "Practice managers have always had a key role in handling complaints in general practice, and many already act as complaints managers. They need to be aware of the changes to the complaints procedure because there are now specific responsibilities for which practice managers may be held accountable.
"For example, the new procedures place a greater emphasis on learning from complaints and there are requirements to have formal mechanisms in place to drive learning and improvement. Practice managers may need to put procedures in place, such as organising regular significant event audit meetings.
"While only a tiny minority of patients will have cause to complain about the care they have received, if problems do arise, practice managers can ensure concerns are addressed quickly and sympathetically."
The MDU's article highlights how a seemingly straightforward complaint from a patient who encountered problems when contacting his GP by phone led to the practice reviewing their telephone system and training for staff.
The patient complained that he had been put on hold for long periods, then cut off by an unhelpful receptionist when trying to call his GP. When he finally managed to speak to the doctor, he had to explain why he was calling again, having already explained the matter to the previous two receptionists.
During the significant event audit (SEA) into the incident, it emerged that the telephone system could not cope with the volume of calls received and also that receptionists had not had telephone skills training. The complaint was resolved by offering the patient an apology and explaining the outcomes of the SEA meeting.
Your comments (terms and conditions apply):
"Complaints handling is part of excellent customer service and a practice manager should be responsible for handling such matters. There is however, a need for clinical input to managing complaints and a willingness for clinicians to take seriously the issues that arise" – Name and address withheld
"I agree with the need of proper training for complaints managers. In my opinion, complaints arise mostly because of weak customer service knowledge and practice. We need free customer service training for our receptionist as well" – Nazma Ansari, Barnet
"I think there should be another name for practice managers – we are expected to be every department and take full responsibility for each department – we do not mind but GPs must realise that this position needs support with human resources available to them. We all want to do an excellent job but we are juggling more and more and concerned that one day one of the balls will fall leading to a serious mistake" – Stephanie, Grimsby
"Have managed well as complaint's manager so far but would appreciate appropriate training" – Wendy, Tipton
"When will practice managers receive the appropriate training for their role as complaints manager? This is yet another job with responsibility that is carried out without formal training and qualification, eg, pensions manager" - Georgina Connelly, London