Making Complaints Count

The Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman (PHSO) report “Making Complaints Count” provides the results from research undertaken by PHSO that highlights similar themes from complaints about public services – in summary:

  • Failure to respond to the points raised by those who complain
  • Poor coordination of investigations
  • Delays in responding to those who raise complaints
  • Failure to keep those who complain updated
  • Lack of evidence-based explanations for decisions
  • Incomplete complaint responses

Further research undertaken by PHSO identified that there are three core weaknesses in public services complaints system – in summary:

  • There is no single vision for how staff are expected to handle and resolve complaints.
  • Staff do not get consistent access to good quality complaints handling training.
  • Organisations see complaints negatively, not as a learning tool that can be used to improve their service. Resourcing and staff feeling unsupported may then result.

ISCAS Annual Reports show that “complaints handling” is one of the most frequent areas identified in the independent adjudications of escalated complaints from private healthcare patients. ISCAS encourages subscribers to learn from feedback and continually improve complaints handling.

In July the Patients Association, on behalf of ISCAS, facilitated a patient focus group – the feedback included:

  • Not knowing where or how to complain
  • Need for simple language and to understand the system
  • Complexity of system – too complicated to navigate especially when across NHS and private care.
  • No clear framework saying this is your rights, this is what you can expect and this is what you do if dissatisfied
  • Patients should be encouraged to raise concerns when have a gut feeling something not right

ISCAS is part of the working group that the PHSO is leading to co-design a Complaint Standards Framework (CSF). The PHSO research in “Making Complaints Matter” and feedback from the ISCAS focus group will inform improvements in complaint handling.

ISCAS considers that the four principle areas that the PHSO’s framework is built on will be a helpful basis for the revision of the ISCAS Code for managing complaints from private patients, namely:

  • Senior leaders of services promote a learning and improvement culture in their organisation, investing in their staff so that they can learn from complaints and make improvements
  • Organisations train staff to positively seek feedback from service users and ensure individuals can provide feedback easily, with any issues resolved in an open and responsive way
  • Staff are trained to carry out a detailed look into complaints that is thorough and fair – being empathetic, objective, evidence-based, and supportive of those who make a complaint and staff who are subject to a complaint
  • Staff provide fair and accountable decisions based on the facts and are empowered to put things right when mistakes are identified.

Both the Paterson Inquiry Report and the Cumberlege Report identify the need for improvement in complaints across NHS and private healthcare. ISCAS considers a framework, based on the four areas in the CSF, will go some way to helping patients navigate the complaints system across healthcare however it is funded.