Editorial Comment

Carry On Complaining

Yes, patients do and Practices like anyone do not like complaints. GP Practices these days are expected to handle and process their own complaints. Practices should have clearly defined procedures to deal with complaints and it should not be too difficult for them to find out how to complain by look at either the Practice Leaflet or Practice web site.

The Trouble is……

Patients these days are quite savvy and they know how to cause problems. They can look at the NHS Web site and add a few choice words anonymously to comment on their experiences at the Practice. They also have access to the Care Quality Commission and can report a Practice with or without grounds.

It’s best not to ignore complaints!

Having said that in over 50 years working in the NHS both as a Complaints officer with an FPC and in general practice. To be honest the number of complaints received each year compared with the number of patient contacts is infinitesimal. In fact, I recall struggling to gather and report annually on complaints dealt with by my surgery let alone find any learning points.

Sorry is not the easiest word to say

Saying sorry is such a way that there is no admission of fault is not easy. Showing empathy band understanding is a start. Giving a clearly worded explanation is the next stage and showing how the Practice might take on board or improve as a result of the complaints might provide some resolution.

Keeping a Register

Keeping a register of complaints for the Practice generally and for each individual GP is a wise move. Complaints might also be split into clinical and non-clinical. The register should show the name of the complainant and or patient. It should show the names of persons complained about. It should then detail the stages of processing the case. It might include acknowledging the complaint, responding formally and receiving further comments. It record the dates of meetings or telephone conversation. There should be a summary of the complaint along with the response or resolution. It might need to record any appeal internally or externally. It might also need to record details of any other bodies or persons involved not associated with the Practice.

A Professional Response

The long and short of it is that it is all time consuming. It needs to be dealt with professionally and in my opinion not just left to a GP to answer his or her own complaints. It is also important to consider whether a complaint is valid. The issues raised may relate to the GP contract and the terms of service contained therein to do with the treatment and care provided for a patient. Was the treatment and care provided within the realms of what might be expected from a GP or was the skill and knowledge that would be required be more appropriate to a fully trained and experienced consultant. Is the GP actually responsible for the treatment and care provided or is someone else. These days the responsibility is not 24 hours.

Another area to check is whether the complaint is timely – when did the event that gave rise to the complaint occur or when did the complainant become aware of its relevance – there are and need to be time limits. In addition if the complainant is not the patient does that person have written consent to complain on behalf of the patient. Clearly anyone can complain when a patient has died although it would normally be a relative.

Practices should have a Practice Complaints Procedure which is available in written form. It is not sufficient to simply say contact our Practice Manager. The procedure should set out all the conditions attached to making a complaint and give a timetable for processing the complaint. Going quiet and not replying is not an option. I fail to understand why some Practices fail to respond to complaints made on the NHS Choices web site. No response does not look good and will be picked up by CQC Inspection.


Robert Campbell

By Robert Campbell<br><img src="" alt="Robert Campbell" class="avatar" width='50' height='50'/>

Started work writing medical cards in 1966 at Staffordshire Executive Council. Have worked at Inner London Executive Council, Hertfordshire Executive Council, Lambeth Southwark and Lewisham FPC, Birmingham FPC, Dudley FPC and Wakefield FPC and Family Health Services Authority. I was seconded to the NHS Appeals Unit and have worked as a full time GP practice manager since 1992 until 2010. I was also an AMSPAR trainer at Park Lane College, Leeds. Now I work as a freelance author.