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25th July 2016

Complaints Friends or Foes?

With pressure on resource from every direction, why should you welcome complaints?

My husband rang the complaints line in a health setting recently.  I didn’t find it a problem, but my husband struggled with it as it was about his treatment. I saw a great deal of weighing up and anguish before he did so, and weeks of chasing before he got to that point.

There are many people who really would prefer not to make a complaint, and some that never will.  It could be that they believe making a complaint will jeopardise future care, that it is culturally unacceptable, will hurt others feelings, or even feel others will see their complaint as trivial.

In my husband’s case, he reasoned through events leading to complaining. He did not feel the staff had the hours or financial backing to do anything differently BUT in my mind, this was a governance issue.  It did not reflect on staff, but the structure and interactions of the organisation.

Why are complaints important?

Firstly, they highlight people’s experience and show where things have not worked for them. Not every complaint is valid, but every complaint is a point of view and one to be treated with respect.

The CQC Residential Adult Social Care Provider handbook says ‘We will also look at how providers handle concerns, complaints and whistleblowing in every comprehensive inspection. A service that is safe, responsive and well-led will treat every concern as an opportunity to improve, will encourage its staff to raise concerns without fear of reprisal, and will respond to complaints openly and honestly.’

Lifting up the boards of a complaint

Recently we had a leak that went from the loft right the way down the house and into our dining room.   When the insurers came, they advised us to rip up the boards in the loft bathroom to let the floor breath and dry up the wet before it ruined the floor and produced mould.

I see a good complaint system working the same.  Acknowledgment is not enough.  A service needs to address complaints and grow from them.  In collaboration, Health Watch England, The Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman and Local Government Ombudsmen compiled ‘My expectations for raising concerns and complaints’  This is a very useful, fantastically focused look at service users expectations.  The commitment was born out of the government response to the Frances Enquiry and is laced through the  CQC’s inspection framework.

Lifting up those boards not only stopped the problem spreading, but also identified that there was a very slow drip from the sink.  Investigating a complaint thoroughly could shine a light on other areas of the service that would have gone undetected.

Giving complaints a process

It isn’t nice having to complain.  It is actually for some a very emotional thing to do.  It is rarely done lightly, and takes a lot of courage even with an accessible route.  Giving them the attention, and structured process will send a message not only to CQC, but most importantly, will give service users a voice and confidence in it and contribute to keeping them safe.


Abi Spence

Registration and Inspection Specialist

Abi has worked for and with Government agencies relevant to social care for the past 12+ years. Primarily with the Department of Health, Social Services Inspectorate, Commission for Social Care Inspection (CSCI) and since its inception the Care Quality Commission (CQC). As part of this long involvement Abi has developed a wide and detailed understanding of relevant issues and has worked closely with stakeholders such as people that use services, carers, providers, local government, the Department of Health , Ofsted and the Audit Commission. Read more

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