Creating a Culture of Complaints

November 2, 2017


How can Health and Social Care Providers help people say it as it is?

Tuning In

I’m really listening to my Mum.  I’ve not seen my parents in a while, and I have a habit of telling all my news in one big machine gun torrent.

The Problem

She tells me about her experience trying to get hearing aid batteries from a provider, as hers are low.  She explains how her appointment is in one place, and battery collection is over the other side of town with limited opening hours and a lack of information around the change.

What’s Upsetting

This isn’t what really upsets her, a former union rep in years gone by, and a seriously good communicator, there isn’t much that gets past her.  What really is getting her, is the lack of response from the provider to the written complaint she has submitted.


She has stopped talking, I notice when I take her in for a moment, however forthright she is that she is vulnerable too.  She personally needs to be listened to and acknowledged, and it isn’t happening.

The Big Block

The blocks are obvious:

  • No visible complaints policy
  • No initial acknowledgement without chasing
  • No updates or timescales

How it Makes You Feel

Whatever the complaint, big or small, silence is not golden but in itself feels like a response.  It can lead to feelings of:

  • Not being listened to
  • Nothing being done
  • Insignificance of the problem

even if this isn’t the intention.  As I say to my husband, ‘how do I know what you are thinking if you won’t tell me?’

The Benefits

The benefits should be clear – we serve people, and if they aren’t happy, then something may need to change. When we listen to people we improve the service.  

Top Tips for Encouraging Complaints

  1. Make sure people know what a complaint is – The definition of a complaint is often referred to as when a person is ‘dissatisfied’ with something. That really isn’t a high bar, is it?
  2. Ensure your policy for complaints is emphasised and shared from day one. Help people understand this isn’t a massive hurdle, but an easy step if people feel they need to take this route. Remember people need to be informed and have the support to understand what the policy means
  3. Create multiple ways for people to complain – they do not have to be written to be taken seriously
  4. Make complaining accessible – Ensure comment boxes have pen and paper near them, people are aware they can complain to the manager, and any updates to the complaints policy are circulated. Those that require different formats or advocates should know they can access these easily

So a Complaint Has Been Submitted…Now What?

It’s right now you need to be communicative.

  1. Acknowledge you have received the complaint
  2. Ensure you ask the questions you need to up front to gain information such as how people want to be updated and anything that isn’t clear
  3. Ensure you have explained how long the process will take in your estimation if this is appropriate, and when you are likely to be in touch

Filling the Gap

When there are delays – say so.  This simple step means you are thinking of the individual.  Awaiting any kind of result can be difficult, and allowing people courtesy, upholds their dignity and treats them with respect.

Reporting Back

It’s important, whatever the outcome, that this is done respectfully, even if the complaint is not upheld.  People need to know they can complain again, and that this is not a problem. Saying you are sorry for how someone feels is very different from saying their problem is the services.

And Finally

Mum’s dissatisfaction may lead to little change, but she needs to get it out, say how it feels, be acknowledged and know solutions have been sought.  Most of all, she needs not to worry about it or feel she needs to chase.

A simple complaint can often snowball if it isn’t handled well, and actually, that takes up a lot of everyone’s time and energy.

QCS has a suite of policies and procedures that can help you with the complaints process.  Let us help you make a difference.

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Abi Spence

Registration and Inspection Specialist


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