Christelle Beeckmans has been in charge of the Quality Division of the FAMHP for the past ten years. Her division handles external complaints, which are complaints from people outside the agency such as stakeholders, healthcare professionals and citizens. In 2021, the health crisis also had a major impact on the activities of the Quality Division. Christelle tells us more about the activities of the Quality Division and the FAMHP’s complaints management.
What kind of external complaints does the FAMHP receive?
When we receive external complaints, our aim is to give a voice to people outside the agency about things that are not working as well as they should. Complaints can concern problems regarding an activity of the agency or a stakeholder in the agency. For example, a third party may submit a complaint for not receiving any response to a request. Or they could file a complaint against the pharmacist because of a medication delivery problem. A pharmaceutical company may also, for example, lodge a complaint against another pharmaceutical company if they believe there is favouritism.
There is a range of complaints, which must obviously fall within field of competence of the FAMHP. For example, a medicine reimbursement problem does not fall within our competence. However, there is a network of complaint managers at the federal level. When we receive a complaint that does not fall within our competence, we forward it to the competent body.
With the many competences of the FAMHP, you must be overwhelmed with complaints.
Figures vary from one year to the next but they are very limited. We receive between hundred and two hundred and fifty complaints every year. Figures rarely exceed this number. In addition, most of the complaints we receive are measured and well-considered. Of all complaints, 15 to 30 are against the FAMHP. In 2021, we received 28 complaints of this type. This is a little more than usual, but the FAMHP can be proud of the fact that we receive very few complaints.
What are the most common complaints about the FAMHP?
We classify complaints into several categories. First there are the complaints about the behaviour of an official. We receive no more than one of these a year. Then there are complaints about the quality of the delivered product or service. We record about ten complaints of this type every year. We also receive complaints about the way the delivered product or service are handled, in other words, the procedures. We record around twenty complaints of this type every year.
Finally, we also receive complaints about the way external complaints are handled. There are very few of them. Most of the time, we don’t receive any of these. So the majority of complaints relate to FAMHP procedures. But we are generally satisfied. Thirty complaints or so every year is really not much for an agency employing more than five hundred people.
How can someone submit a complaint to your division?
The FAMHP’s complaint procedure was developed in 2012. Initially, most complaints were submitted by post. But we wanted to facilitate the process because our goal is to engage in a dialogue with citizens. So we developed an electronic form that can be submitted anonymously or otherwise. To ensure that as many people as possible can file a complaint, we still accept complaints by post. We sometimes also receive them by e-mail, but that is exceptional.
Once a complaint has been submitted, what happens next?
We always try to find a solution for every complaint, whether it concerns the internal functioning of the FAMHP or not. If the complaint is valid, if it falls within our competences, we open a dossier and transmit it to the most appropriate service. The service has thirty days to examine it. By examining we mean investigating and understanding the context.
If the service decides to organise an inspection in an incriminated industry, is not part of the complaints process but it is the starting point of another process, which we call the “business” process. If the complaint concerns the internal functioning of the FAMHP, then we provide an answer and also ensure that the process in question is improved so that we can offer an even better quality of service. This is our policy for the continuous improvement of our activities.
What happens if someone is not satisfied with the way their complaint has been handled?
Fortunately, this rarely happens, but there is a procedure for this: citizens who are dissatisfied with the response to their complaint can file a complaint with the Federal Ombudsman. The ombudsman contacts us and asks us to find a more satisfactory response or to make improvements. Once again, our objective is to improve our activities and the quality of our services to citizens continuously.
And what exactly can be improved at the FAMHP?
The main area of improvement for the FAMHP is the response time for complaints. In some cases, we exceed it by a few days. However, there are only three claims involving the FAMHP every year. That is very little and demonstrates the quality of our complaint management service: normally we ensure a proper follow-up and offer an adequate solution to people who file a complaint.
In 2021, we were still in the middle of the coronavirus crisis. Did COVID-19 have an impact on your team?
We quickly realised that most activities of the Quality Division would be slowed down or even stopped. All other services were very busy with activities related to the crisis, so they did not have time to focus on quality management. However, we did not expect an increase of external complaints. But, since our so-called classic quality activities were decreasing, we could easily handle the increase.
So, were there many external complaints related to the coronavirus crisis?
Yes. First of all, we have received a lot of complaints related to the COVID-19 vaccines. Some of them did not concern our competences, for example: the organisation of the vaccination campaign, appointment booking, etc. But we had to redirect these complaints to the appropriate bodies. We have also received and continue to receive complaints about side effects from COVID-19 vaccines. We have consulted with our Vigilance Division since it is not a complaint as we define it, but rather a report of side effects. Those reports are very important for pharmacovigilance and must be processed by qualified people.
Finally, we have received complaints about the unavailability of medicinal products and medical devices related to the crisis. The divisions concerned created specific email boxes for this type of complaint, which facilitated their direct redirection to the right people. But we follow up complaints even when it is not directed to the right division. No complaint is forgotten. People do not always know which division they should contact, which is normal.