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Working with the NHS to make sure complaints can make a difference

Health Liaison Manager

In my role as a Health Liaison Manager, I spend much of my time visiting NHS complaints managers to talk about our work, how the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman's service is changing and to share.

We've recently undertaken some research to get a better understanding of the barriers that stop people from complaining when public services fall short. Our research shows that while an overwhelming 90% of people believe that they should complain if they are unhappy about a public service, only 34% actually do.  This means that many individual complaints are left unresolved and that valuable feedback on public and NHS services is not being captured and acted upon.

One reason people gave for not complaining is the feeling that it wouldn't make a difference. We are working in partnership with complaints managers, advocacy groups and regulators to make sure that they do. In my role as a Health Liaison Manager, I spend much of my time visiting NHS complaints managers to talk about our work, how the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman's service is changing and to share learning from the complaints that we see.

Ahead of these meetings we look through our casework for any particular themes or patterns that emerge about the specific organisation. We also have the advantage of having an overview of complaints from right across the NHS in England. This enables us to share good practice and any innovation that we see as well as identifying recurrent themes of difficulties and mistakes. We have visited a wide range of Trusts across England and have spoken to wider groups like the National Complaints Managers Forum and the North West NHS PALS and Complaints Network. We also meet regularly with NHS England central complaints team and their regional teams to talk about the learning from primary care complaints.

As well as sharing the learning from our casework with complaints managers, I also use the meetings as an opportunity to gather feedback on our service, how we do things and where we could improve. The feedback I capture during meetings and visits is really important in helping us to develop and improve how we work with organisations we investigate – particularly around the need to keep organisations informed during the course of the investigations we undertake. I have also heard about the difficulties we can cause NHS organisations by them having to deal with several different teams at our office.  To help with this, we have asked some of our teams to specialise in key areas of NHS care to help our staff increase their expertise, as well as providing single team contacts for the relevant organisations to help develop good working relationships.

I also regularly talk to complaints managers about My Expectations – which sets out what good complaint handling looks like from patients and service users' perspectives. This is now also being used by CQC as a benchmarking tool in their inspections.