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Working in partnership to improve complaint handling

Lead Clinician

One of our strategic objectives is to work in partnership with public services to support and improve front line complaints handling.

NHS England has been delivering complaints handling training to the dental profession for the last 18 months. Liaison manager Anna Neil and I recently attended a session to find out what the training looks like and identify further opportunities to support frontline staff.

We are often told by complaints managers that training is not always available and there are few opportunities to share good practice between NHS organisations. This session was a positive example of training done well that was tailored to a specific audience.

Discussing good practice

A good mix of clinical and frontline staff took part in the session. The facilitators began by covering the practical aspects of complaint handling and how organisations are expected to respond. This included the legal requirements in terms of timeframes and responsibilities, as well as practical hints and tips for attendees.

We also discussed how to respond to complaints and shared examples of good and not-so-good approaches. The facilitators explained that defence organisations encourage their clinicians to apologise.

They referred to the Scottish Public Services Ombudsman’s four Rs approach: expressing regret, acknowledging responsibility, giving a reason and offering a remedy.

They also recommended the ‘sad but glad’ approach. This reinforces the message that complaints are important and are taken seriously. For example:

‘Thank you for your complaint. I am sorry you have had this experience at our Practice (sad) and appreciate (glad) you have brought this to our attention to allow us to investigate.’

Providing support and guidance

The facilitators referred to several resources we developed to support those involved in the complaints process:

They also covered:

  • NHS England’s role in dealing with complaints about primary care
  • the role of advocates and organisations such as Healthwatch in supporting complainants, and
  • what the CQC will look at when they inspect a practice.

Our work to improve complaint handling

We recently helped develop the General Dental Council Complaints Standards which were discussed during the session. These, and the training we attended, are part of a wider initiative to improve complaints handling in the dental sector.

This week, Ombudsman Rob Behrens will speak at the NHS Complaint Manager’s Forum Spring Conference, to update complaints handlers on our work.

Our next step is to develop a good practice framework for complaint handling. This will form the basis for working with our partners to design and deliver training for complaints staff.