An opportunity to improve

The future of general practice complaint handling 

In some areas general practice is changing to respond to the challenges it is facing by merging to create larger practices or establishing integrated, community shaped, generalist healthcare services.33 General practice is at the heart of the new vision for the NHS, set out in the Five Year Forward View,34 and the success of the new vision for the NHS is reliant on a well operating and effective service.  

We believe that the new models at the heart of this vision provide an opportunity for practices to improve their complaint handling:

  • Complaints can be dealt with more consistently - a process can ensure that the practice owns the complaints, and accountability lies with the practice not an individual staff member, and that a consistent approach is applied. 
  • Real or perceived conflicts of interest can be mitigated - for example, a GP or practice manager not involved in the case could investigate the complaint and provide ‘independent’ advice if appropriate. 
  • They will have more experience - we would expect practices serving larger populations to receive more feedback, concerns and complaints. They can gain more experience in dealing with complaints, gather greater insights and respond to the needs of their patients more effectively. 

The new ways of working will only improve complaint handling if those designing the complaints process locally ensure:

  • Complaints processes are not too complicated or bureaucratic - for the complainant or for staff.
  • Complaint handling does not become too removed from individuals being complained about. 
  • The interests of the complaint handler are not at odds with the healthcare professional or the complainant.
  • The insights from complaints are reviewed alongside other forms of patient and staff feedback.  

The new models must be used as an opportunity to make the complaints system simpler for the provider and patient. A ‘no wrong door’ policy should be adopted so that it remains simple and straightforward to complain and the routing of complaints is not the responsibility of the individual bringing the concern/complaint. 

The complaint handling process should ensure that complaints are owned by the organisation whilst not becoming too removed from those being complained about.    

33 Smith J, Holder H, Edwards N, Maybin J, Parker H, Rosen R and Walsh N, Securing the Future of General Practice: New models of primary care. Nuffield Trust, (2013).
34 NHS England Five Year Forward View, (2014)