Harnessing the Power of Complaints

Customer Feedback is your Barometer – Tap it Gently to See the Future


Providing an efficient and effective response to people who make complaints poses significant challenges for any organisation providing services to members of the public. When the services in question are medical care and treatment, the complexities only multiply.

Across both the NHS and independent healthcare sector, in recent years there has been a focus on improving the standard and timeliness of responses to complaints. Whilst those aims are wholly laudable (and particularly before publication of the Francis Report), less attention has been given to how effectively gathering information from complaints can help an organisation advance its governance agenda.

There are a variety of possible reasons for this including:

  • Complaints handling is sometimes regarded as an administrative task – in some organisations, senior managers will only become involved in cases where a complaint is obviously very serious, the complainant is very persistent, or the case is prolific for some other reason (such as involvement of a local MP;
  • Aside from obvious factors (for example, number of complaints relating to a particular staff member or service), identifying and analysing meaningful trends in complaints can be problematic;
  • It can be difficult to identify underlying issues in a complaint (especially where for whatever reason the original complaint is not compellingly presented).
  • One of the key reasons complaints present such a valuable potential resource of information to an organisation is that their subject-matter is not limited to that which management (or an external regulator) has chosen to measure.

Whilst the best approach to mine the potential complaints have to offer in this respect will vary from organisation to organisation, the following are examples of approaches some healthcare providers have found to be of help:

  • Non-Executive Directors undertaking regular reviews of sample complaint files (to be selected by the reviewers rather than simply presented to them by the complaints team);
  • An external review of trends in complaints as against factors considered in internal reports;
  • Regular triangulation meetings between senior managers with oversight of complaints, claims, inquests and serious untoward event investigations with a view to exploring common themes and risk reduction strategies.

What could complainants tell you about your organisation that you may not be aware of?




About The Editors

The Governance Advisory Practice is a team of corporate and clinical governance experts all of whom have significant personal experience gained at Board level in the public and commercial sectors.

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