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The chasm between theory and practice in NHS complaint handling

12 May 2022
Volume 31 · Issue 9


John Tingle, Lecturer in Law, Birmingham Law School, University of Birmingham, discusses several reports on NHS complaint handling

It is hard to view complaints positively. The word ‘complaint’ itself carries immediate negative connotations. Perhaps ‘adverse user feedback’ would be a better term? It is hard to view complaints as service improvement ‘jewels’, to be encouraged for the valuable insights that they provide. Nobody likes being complained about, and it is a natural response to become defensive. Self-confidence can take a hit and there is resulting personal stress.

Nurses, doctors and allied health professionals will no doubt see a fair share of complaints in their professional lives. As providers of essential services in a resource-constrained environment they will never be able to satisfy everyone that they treat. Healthcare delivery also relies heavily on human interaction, so some degree of error is inevitable. The best that we can try to do is to effectively manage risk and develop a proper patient safety culture. Effective complaint handling practices and procedures are an essential prerequisite to doing this. Active learning must also occur from complaints.

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