How early, direct engagement improved the experience of staff and complainants

NHS Foundation Trust Newcastle upon Tyne Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust piloted early intervention meetings (EIMs) in 2016 to help improve the complaints process for both patients and staff.

Complainants had expressed frustration at how long it took the Trust to respond to complaints and said the written responses they received sometimes felt cold and defensive. Staff also expressed concerns regarding the length of time taken for investigations, as incidents being investigated had often taken place many months or even over a year before.

To resolve these issues, the Trust introduced face-to-face meetings between complainants and staff at the Trust to address concerns raised as early as possible. To pilot EIMs, a small team of existing complaints staff were formed. The team also included a part-time clinician who chaired meetings and provided support to staff and complainants.

To ensure that complainants’ concerns were addressed in full, face-to-face meetings were held where possible. Before meeting, a ‘no blame’ policy was also agreed to encourage constructive discussion. EIMs were also recorded and a written summary was provided to complainants.

The Trust initially trialed EIMs with people who had made complaints involving highly sensitive or distressing issues, and where a timely response in person would be more appropriate due to the issues being discussed. The Trust told us that these meetings were particularly important for patients receiving end of life care so they don't have to wait weeks or months for a written response to their complaint.

The Trust held EIMs within 4 to 8 weeks of people making a complaint and routinely evaluated these meetings. Internal surveys of 118 staff and 10 complainants showed that staff felt supported and the meetings had been helpful. 98% of respondents also said that they would attend future meetings.

Feedback also showed that face to face meetings helped complainants understand the issues related to their complaints more fully. Since the pilot, EIMs have now become an established element of the complaints process at the Trust, with staff and some patients requesting them to ensure their complaint is dealt with quickly.

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This case summary is also featured in the Making Complaints Count: Supporting complaints handling in the NHS report.