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Working together for a better complaints system

Assistant Director of Strategy and Partnerships

Earlier in April we held our first meeting of the Health and Social Care Regulators’ Forum Working Group formed to create a system-wide Complaint Standards Framework, which will set out a unified vision of best practice in complaints handling for the NHS.

We had a great turnout which included representatives from the NHS, Department of Health and Social Care, and regulators such as the General Dental Council and the Care Quality Commission.

Shared aims

To kick off a discussion about the group’s aims, I presented the main findings from our research with NHS complaints teams. These were that:

  • there are multiple definitions of what constitutes ‘good practice’ in complaints handling in the NHS; 
  • access to training for complaints staff varies and is based on different ideas of what ‘good practice’ is; and
  • organisational approaches to learning from complaints vary.

We all agreed that the project should be a collaborative and owned by the whole health system rather than by one organisation. As each of our organisations has already developed effective guidance for handling complaints, we want to avoid ‘reinventing the wheel’. Instead, we plan to identify the core themes we see across existing guidance and bring them together into one platform that allows flexibility for local processes. 

Driving cultural change

The group identified a key opportunity to drive cultural change in the way NHS organisations handle complaints, as well as procedural change. To help make this happen, we agreed that NHS board members should be a primary audience for this work. A key aim will be to improve the way boards and senior leadership share best practice and learning from complaints.

What will the framework cover?

The group discussed My Expectations, which we developed in 2014 with Healthwatch, the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman and service users. This outlines what a good complaint journey looks like. It will be one of the core pieces of guidance embedded in the framework and we will address any ‘gaps’ that people have identified when using My Expectations.

One of the ‘gaps’ identified at the meeting, was the need for a pre-complaint stage where complaint handlers help people determine what they require. This might be compensation, service improvements, or simply to raise a concern. This would help signpost people more accurately to relevant services. 
We also discussed the need for additional guidance on early dispute resolution and mediation, and how to capture insight from complaints and use this to drive service improvements in the ‘post’ complaints stage.

Additionally, working group members highlighted the need to support those being complained about while also recognising the needs and expectations of those who raise concerns and complaints. 

The next steps

It was a very energising session, with group members saying they were left with a real sense that this work will make a long-lasting difference.

We are planning to bring in more representatives from social care into the group and are exploring how we can include patient voices, with organisations such as Healthwatch, AvMa and the Patients’ Association.

In the next session we will begin to develop the content of the Complaint Standards Framework and continue exploring wider opportunities to drive improvements. 

We’re planning lots more work with partners to improve frontline complaint handling and will be providing regular updates. Follow us on Twitter for the latest news.