The other common factor in the cases we examined is far too frequent substandard complaint handling by the NHS organisations. We can only uphold a complaint if there has been a failing that has not been acknowledged and put right by the organisation.
While the focus of this report is to highlight where mental health services are failing patients, poor complaint handling compounds the impact of these failings. In the course of speaking to complainants for this report, a common theme was that poor complaint handling ‘added insult to injury’, and showed a lack of respect.
In 2009, we published the Ombudsman’s Principles for Good Complaint Handling, which set out what organisations should do to manage complaints properly so customers’ concerns are dealt with appropriately.
Good complaint handling is integral to good patient experience. Responding quickly and honestly, acknowledging mistakes and putting things right means that, even when something serious has gone wrong, people still feel they are treated with respect and empathy.
Finally, complaints are an opportunity for organisations to learn and improve. This can enhance the organisation’s reputation and increase trust among people using the service. Showing how a complaint has made a difference and made improvements so others do not experience the same mistake is an opportunity to rebuild trust and confidence in public services that is too often missed.