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by Mary Mippins
20 October 2008

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Managing the Miserable Patient Movement

Ok, I admit it – six months ago our telephone access was little short of pathetic and patients weren’t happy. If the phones weren’t answered within a nanosecond of ringing, we were seen to have failed miserably – and boy, did the national survey results show it.

I am convinced there is an underground movement of miserable patients who make it their mission in life to complain about anything and everything. No hand soap in the toilet? Give them a complaint form. (The fact that it keeps getting pinched is no excuse.) No coffee machine in the waiting room? Show them the suggestion box. Doctor X didn’t smile at you today? Sorry, perhaps it’s because you spent 40 minutes ranting at him for not prescribing a fat-reducing drug – which you say you need since you only eat a lettuce leaf a day, notwithstanding the fact that Doctor X happened to bump into you down at the local pub one day stuffing gammon, egg and chips down your throat like there was no tomorrow!

You are not large-boned, you do not have an eating disorder and your thyroid is not playing up. You are eating for six. You are fat. You are angry. Fill in the survey form and go away.

This is probably why our results were less than encouraging. The PCT paid us a visit and were very kind. “Do you think it’s the way you answer the telephone?” They asked.

Yes, I think we pick it up, tell them all to sod off and put it down again. Yawn.

“Do you think the duty doctor should answer all the calls to triage them?”

Yes, and then he’ll make the tea for us all while we file our nails and talk about EastEnders.

“When I was a practice manager, I never employed receptionists who thought they should be dragons.”

Please let me tell the staff you think they are a load of bossy tarts who can’t do their jobs. Oh, and while we’re at it, I thought you were in charge of Choose and Book after you moved from the PBC desk last month? And before you were in HR. I didn’t realise you had been promoted again.

Six months later, our telephone access is brilliant – a new phone system and an extra receptionist mean we are answering the phones in less than a nanosecond.

The PCT have managed to tick all the right boxes, which means they are off the hook and we are flavour of the month – until the next crisis.

Yet the patients are still complaining. That is just the way it is, I expect. We are here to be complained at and they are here to complain, and someone at the PCT with a clipboard and a spreadsheet is hovering in the background, ready to pounce on the loser – which is always the practice and never the patient.

Zero tolerance? You bet. We get a big fat zero and are told to be more tolerant. So back to Mrs Still Fat and Even More Angry, who wrote to say she knew all about patient choice and how come she couldn’t get to see her GP when she wanted to and was he avoiding her because she’d threatened to have him knee-capped?

I shall word my response carefully after lunch. And yes, I am having a fry-up in the pub. If you can’t beat them …

What’s your solution to dealing with difficult patients? Your comments: (Terms and conditions apply)

“A great summary and one to remember when I listen to the next round of demands from our dear patients who have just finished reading the latest suggestions in the national press!” – Moira Moore, Wales

“Capital punishment of patients who offend twice. Once = warning, twice = dire consequences” – Nigel Kenward, Lincs

“There is not always a solution – my patient surveys have people grumbling because we are not open at lunchtime and we have been open at lunchtime for the past 20 years! Patients are being encouraged to complain about anything and everything – we just have to grit our teeth and continue delivering a wonderful service whether they appreciate it or not – and thankfully most do. Nevertheless, the article above made me laugh out loud so thank you for that and next time I have a ‘complainee’ in front of me I will let my mind drift back to the article” – Sheila Gilbert, Sheffield