Making Complaints Count: Supporting complaints handling in the NHS and UK Government Departments (Executive Summary)

A unified vision for good complaint handling

The problem: inconsistency and a lack of shared view

In our role of making final decisions on complaints that have not been resolved by the NHS in England, we see significant variation in both the quality and consistency of how organisations approach complaint handling. This is because the current statutory framework for NHS complaint handling is too broad in the requirements its sets.

One key answer: providing consistency through a Complaint Standards Framework

There is significant consensus on both the problems faced, and what can be done about them. Our work with partners to develop a Complaint Standards Framework for the NHS in England has gathered significant momentum.

There is now a unique opportunity to develop a single, unified framework for best practice in complaints handling that applies across other areas of public services. This is a key building block to ensuring there is a clear cultural alignment towards openness and learning from complaints across the public sector. Crucially, it can ensure that anybody who wishes to make a complaint or give feedback about a public service will experience the same, high quality service, and will see their feedback making a real difference to improving public services for all.

We can learn from the experience of the Scottish Public Services Ombudsman (SPSO), which has created a unified complaint handling framework for public services in Scotland. Significantly, the SPSO was given statutory powers to be a ‘Complaint Standards Authority’. In practice, this means that it has the power to set standards for local complaint handling within the public sector in Scotland. As well as setting clear standards, this includes a role for SPSO in delivering training and other forms of support to public service providers.

Similar statutory powers for PHSO, or a future Public Service Ombudsman, would allow us to set and monitor recognised standards for public service providers. It would encourage organisations to improve their complaint handling based on a unified vision of good practice.

While we are committed to working with our partners to embed the Framework, we are conscious that in the absence of it having statutory force, it will be more challenging to monitor performance and maintain consistency.