NHS Complaint Standards: Summary of expectations

Giving fair and accountable responses  

An effective complaints handling system enables staff to give a fair and balanced account of what happened and what conclusions they have reached.

Organisations openly identify instances when things have gone wrong, or where services have had an unfair impact, and take responsibility for these.

They make sure staff can offer a range of ways to put things right for the individual. Staff also look at what action will be taken to learn from the experience to continuously improve services and help support staff.

  • Staff give a clear, balanced account of what happened based on established facts. Each account compares what happened with what should have happened. It gives clear references to any relevant standards, policies or guidance, based on objective criteria.
  • In more complex cases, staff make sure they share their initial views on a complaint with everybody involved, and give people the opportunity to respond. Staff make sure they take these comments into account in their final response to the complaint.
  • Organisations make sure staff are supported and encouraged to be open and honest when things have gone wrong or where improvements can be made. Staff balance the need to be accountable for their actions, to identify what learning can be taken from a complaint, and how the learning will be acted on to improve services and support staff.
  • Wherever possible, staff explain why things went wrong and identify suitable ways to put things right for people. Staff make sure the apologies and explanations they give are meaningful, sincere, and openly reflect the impact on the individual or individuals concerned.
  • Organisations empower staff to identify suitable ways to put things right for people who raise a complaint. Organisations provide guidance and resources to make sure any proposed action to put things right is consistent.
  • For complaints that involve multiple organisations, the lead organisation provides a single response to the complaint. This includes what the other organisations have done to look into the issues and the conclusions they reached. Where necessary, the response clearly explains how each organisation will remedy any mistakes it made.
  • Organisations make sure people are kept involved and updated on how the organisation is taking forward all learning or improvements relevant to their complaint.
  • Staff make sure everyone is told about their right to complain to the Ombudsman in the written final response to a complaint.