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Making Complaints Count: Supporting complaints handling in the NHS and UK Government Departments (Executive Summary)

When organisations proactively seek feedback from people who use their services, and resolve any concerns they raise promptly, it can help prevent issues from escalating into a protracted complaints process.

At PHSO we have recognised this is important not only for the organisations we investigate but also for the service we provide. Evidence gathered during our research highlighted that organisations are missing opportunities to proactively seek feedback and resolve concerns at an early stage.

While NHS organisations often look to arrange meetings with those who raise a complaint, these are often poorly planned or seen as an afterthought. When planned well, we have seen that earlier interactions with patients has a positive effect.

NHS staff told us that NHS organisations should carefully consider how best to make sure staff have the time and resource to resolve complaints earlier in the process. NHS organisations could do more to prepare their frontline staff for the impact that complaints may have on them, and to support staff to deal with complaints professionally.

It is also important that organisations make it easy for people to raise feedback and complaints, and give feedback, in a way that suits them. As people increasingly go online to view information on local services and to share their experiences with others, obtaining digital feedback in a meaningful and engaging way will become more important.

Advocacy organisations play a crucial role in supporting individuals who may find it hard to access the current complaint system to raise their concerns. Yet some advocacy organisations we spoke to highlighted wide variation in NHS organisations signposting to their services. They told us that there were far too many people who did not know about the advocacy support available in their areas.

The evidence we heard highlights ongoing issues in relation to public awareness of NHS complaints advocacy and how organisations signpost people to these services. While NHS organisations can do more to improve their signposting, there is also a need to make sure the landscape for NHS advocacy is sufficiently clear for both organisations and the public to understand.

We have also heard about some concerning gaps in access to more specialist advice and advocacy services for people with complex complaints or those who are involved in complaints processes outside the NHS, such as NHS patient safety investigations and inquests. While it is important that individuals are supported to navigate the NHS complaints process, they may need other forms of support and advice too.