NHS Complaint Standards: Summary of expectations

Why we need the Complaint Standards

Good complaint handling provides a direct and positive connection between those who provide services and the people who use them. Complaints offer a rich source of learning to help improve services for everyone.

This is particularly true for NHS organisations, which provide services that so many people rely on – often at critical times of need.

It is important that:

  • organisations promote a just and learning culture, in which complaints are welcomed and handled well
  • staff have the skills and experience they need to be confident in handling complaints
  • people using NHS services know how to give feedback or make a complaint, can get support when they need it, and are confident their concerns are taken seriously and addressed
  • people making complaints about NHS services get a consistent, positive experience each time
  • staff being complained about are supported and involved throughout the process.

It can often be difficult for staff to achieve these aims because:

  • many organisations do not actively promote a just and learning culture, failing to ensure complaints are welcomed and used as a valuable source of learning
  • there is no single set of guidelines for managing complaints about NHS services
  • staff cannot always get the right training and support to handle and resolve complaints
  • managers and leaders approach learning from complaints in different ways
  • people making complaints do not get a consistent, positive experience, and do not always feel that their concerns are taken seriously and addressed.

This can lead to a culture in which complaints are feared or ignored, rather than embraced. As a result, staff can feel unsupported in this important and complex area of work.

The NHS Complaint Standards are the first step towards addressing these issues. They are supported by a model complaint handling procedure and detailed guidance on how each expectation can be applied in practice. These will be used to develop a professional skills training and support programme for all staff delivering NHS services.