An opportunity to improve

Overview of findings

The following section examines and provides an overview of the findings from the review of 137 cases; the literature review; the workshops with GPs, practice managers and policy makers; and the survey of local Healthwatch.

Complaint handling performance in England 

The quality of GP practice complaint handling across England appears mixed and highly variable. On the one hand, we were reassured to find that over half (55%) of the 137 cases we looked at were assessed as outstanding (9%) or good (46%) complaint handling when measured against the My expectations journey by the four organisations involved in this review. However, we remained concerned about the 45% who are not handling complaints well; just over a third of responses were considered to require some improvement (36%) and a tenth (10%) of cases were rated as inadequate.16

Complaint handling performance was best when measured against the initial stages of the journey outlined in My expectations. These include: feeling confident to make a complaint, making sure the process of complaining is simple and user friendly, and that people are kept informed. In those practices that were performing well, two areas stood out as being particularly good; these were timeliness of the practice’s response and the practice taking the complaint seriously. 

Areas where improvement was most needed overall were the latter stages of the journey; practices were weakest at making sure that complaints resulted in the right outcome for people and that they had learned from the complaints. The tone of the response and providing an adequate explanation were assessed as being clear areas for improvement. 

Higher levels of inadequate complaint handling were apparent when it came to acknowledging  mistakes, preventing the same thing happening again, acting in line with guidance when giving a response and giving an appropriate apology. This may make individuals feel less confident to complain again.  

Healthwatch England also has concerns about the variability of the quality in complaint handling. Over two thirds of local Healthwatch that responded to the survey stated they had concerns about the quality of GP practice complaint handling locally.17  

Of the 13 local Healthwatch who conducted additional research on the experience people in their area had with GP practice complaint handling,18  more than half said that people had reported a variable experience with the complaints process. Just under a third said that users had largely negative experiences of local complaints services, indicating that the quality of complaint handling is patchy.

Practices were weakest at ensuring that complaints resulted in the right outcome for the complainants and that they had learned from the complaints.'

Areas of complaint handling assessed as ‘good’, ‘inadequate’ or ‘requiring improvement’ (from the review of 137 cases)  


16 Not all percentages total 100 owing to rounding 
17 Survey of local Healthwatch on local experiences of GP complaints services, October 2015.
18 Survey of local Healthwatch on local experiences of GP complaints services, October 2015.