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Handling Complaints in the GP Practice the Easy Way

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In January 2015, we discussed the CQC’s ‘Complaints Matter’ Report and how the CQC will expect to see evidence that an inspected GP practice takes complaints seriously and acts upon them. In that article (Complaints:The Dots Between The CQC and The FFT), we suggested a three step process of compliance with complaint handling:

- Ensure you have a complaints policy which is accessible to staff and patients

- Train your people in handling complaints, and have a central complaints coordinator

- Make sure you keep full and frank records of the complaint made, actions taken, and outcomes seen

The Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman has now combined its recent casework with that of the CQC, NHS England, and Healthwatch England to produce a fully comprehensive report detailing how well GP practices in England are handling concerns and complaints.

Complaint handling has mixed results

When all complaints and results of investigations are pooled, the report finds that GP practices’ handling of complaints is a ‘mixed picture’. Though more than half of GP practices are competent with regards to handling complaints, almost half are not following guidance and recommended procedures.

This is damaging the reputation of the entire health service in England. The GP practice is the focal point of health service provision for most people, and when complaints are not listened to or dealt with correctly it impacts negatively on the whole of the NHS.

Areas for improvement in complaint handling

The report identifies five areas where GP practices can improve their complaint handling process:

- Developing a listening culture

- Being clear about what is expected of practices

- Ensuring professional values

- Apologies and being open and honest

- Sharing learning from complaints

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How to improve complains handling in your GP practice

There are a number of things that can be done in the GP practice to ensure your complaints are handled competently and in line with guidance. When considering your complaints procedure, answer these five questions:

- Who is responsible for complaints?

- How are complaints investigated and handled?

- How are patients and their relatives made aware of the ability to raise concerns or make complaints?

- What are the timelines of complaints handling?

- How do you disseminate learning from complaints received and ensure improvement in standards of care?

- How do you ensure that complainants are satisfied with the process and outcome?

When it comes to the actual handling of complaints, Healthwatch has put together a quick and easy guide called “Listen,support, respond: tips for handling complaints and concerns”. We've reviewed this guide and we love it. It builds on our own “Five Steps to Dealing with Difficult Patients” in a succinct way, and highlights other resources available to the GP practice with regards to complaint handling. These resources include:

- Working with your Patient Participation Group (PPG)

- NHS England’s Assurance of Good Complaint Handling for Primary Care Toolkit

Why not download the “Listen,support, respond: tips for handling complaints and concerns” today, and set a team meeting to work through as part of your team’s continuing professional development? How each member of your team handles complaints reflects on your whole practice, and how your practice is viewed by its patients reflects on the entire NHS.

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