What you can do

Dealing with complaints: 2

The seven steps to good complaints handling

Step 1: EMPATHISE

This means approaching the situation from the complainant’s perspective.

It might involve

  • Reassuring the complainant that their ongoing treatment will not be affected by their complaint, or;
  • Acknowledging the impact on them of the events they have complained about, or;
  • Expressing sympathy with the trouble or suffering the complainant reports having experienced.

Step 2: LISTEN

This means developing an understanding of their experience from the complainant’s perspective.

One of the most helpful things is to offer to meet with complainants.

Meetings can have several benefits: from showing that the complaint has been taken seriously and demonstrating that the organisation is in listening mode, to clarifying the key matters of complaint, providing an opportunity to resolve concerns early on, and building rapport and trust.

Step 3: INVESTIGATE

Where complaints investigations are done well, the investigation gets underway swiftly, it has a clear structure and defined scope, and there is a sense of momentum and a defined end.

All relevant parties should be asked to input into the investigation, particularly clinicians.

Another marker of a good investigation is that conflicts of evidence are reconciled, and complainants are helped to understand the relevance of clinical opinion. There should be a robust documentary record of the investigation.

Step 4: REFLECT

This means making sense of the evidence that has been amassed and the outcome of the investigation. Reflective questions include:

 Has the investigation got to the bottom of what occurred?
 What further steps, if any, are necessary before a full response can be made?
 Which aspects of the complaint, if any, should be upheld?
 How can we learn from this?
 How can we prevent the same problems from happening again?
 How well have we managed this complaint?
 What might we do differently if a similar situation were to happen?

Step 5: RESPOND

And do so within the specified time-frames – or give reasons why this is not possible and when a full response will be made – and be clear what the organisation has found.

It means demonstrating candour regarding any failings, and being explicit about deficiencies and what should have happened, and any steps taken to prevent the same problems occurring again. Responding also means being clear whether the complaint is upheld, and what that means.

Step 6: REMEDY

Complainants seek a range of remedies, from financial redress to an apology and assurances that steps will be taken to avoid the same problems happening again.

It is important to acknowledge the remedy that the complainant seeks and whether the organisation is prepared to grant it and the reasons why.

Wherever possible, the response should try to return the complainant to the position they would have been in if the events concerned had not happened. Any apology should be clear and unequivocal.

Step 7: ACT

This means ensuring that change happens and that the outcome is communicated to complainants.

It is about describing what action has been taken to learn lessons and what has or will be done to prevent the same shortcomings from arising again.

Source: Code of Practice for Complaints Management, by ISCAS, 2017