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NHS Confederation welcomes ‘gold standard’ on complaints

Recommendations focus on patient experience of whole complaint process

Louise Prime

Thursday, 20 November 2014

The Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman (PHSO) has published its vision for how patients’ and carers’ complaints should be handled in the NHS. The PHSO collaborated with Healthwatch England and the Local Government Ombudsman to produce the report My expectations for raising concerns and complaints, which the NHS Confederation this morning called a ‘gold standard’ for resolving complaints.

The PHSO led primary research among patients, service users, frontline staff and stakeholders, to define what the outcomes of good practice should look like for patients and service users; to develop a complaint handling framework that is relevant and practical for health and social care providers; and to identify a set of expectations of complaint handling that make sense to patients and service users.

The result is a series of ‘I statements’ to which providers should aspire – expressions of what patients and service users might say if their experience of making a complaint was a good one. These cover the stages of a patient’s whole ‘journey’ when making a complaint, from initial consideration, through the communications with staff and institutions, to final reflection on the experience, for example:

  • I understood that I could be supported to make a complaint
  • I knew for certain that my care would not be compromised by making a complaint
  • I knew that my concerns were taken seriously the very first time I raised them
  • I always knew what was happening in my case
  • I felt that responses were personal to me and the specific nature of my complaint
  • I was offered the choice to keep the details of my complaint anonymous and confidential
  • I received a resolution in a time period that was relevant to my particular case and complaint
  • I felt that my complaint had been handled fairly
  • I would happily advise and encourage others to make a complaint if they felt they needed to

The report’s authors commented: “This report and the vision it presents flip the perspective away from concentrating solely on the bureaucratic challenge of how to provide a complaint handling service, to a focus on the real experiences of patients and service users themselves in making complaints. Placing these at the front and centre of a construction is an example of what ‘good’ looks like.”

Elizabeth Wade, deputy director of policy at the NHS Confederation, said: “While only a small number of these [interactions in the NHS] ever give cause for a complaint, we know that responding well when things do go wrong is crucial. This ‘golden thread’ – apologising, being open and honest about what happened, and describing what is being done to ensure it won’t happen again – is vital for patients and their families to feel their issue has been handled properly and resolved well.

“The work … has distilled the views of patients and their families into a ‘gold standard’ for dealing with complaints. Organisations in the health service can usefully draw on the ‘I statements’  to ensure their own procedures and practices for handling complaints and other feedback genuinely deliver the outcomes that patients and their families say are important.”

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