April 1 saw the introduction of a new unified system for complaints about health and social care. The new system is designed to be more streamlined and complainant focused with an emphasis on local resolution.

  • The new complaints procedure applies to all NHS bodies, voluntary and independent sector organisations that provide services under contract to the NHS and local authorities that provide adult social services
  • The current three tier complaints procedure has been replaced by a two-stage process. Complaints will now pass from the service provider to the Health Service Ombudsman if they remain unresolved at Trust level
  • A complaint can be raised direct with a service provider or the body commissioning the service. Commissioners must be satisfied that providers they use have an appropriate and effective complaints handling system in place
  • Except in relation to complaints by patients detained under the Mental Health Act the new Care Quality Commission will not be directly involved in complaint resolution, but will require service providers to demonstrate robust complaints systems
  • An organisation will be required to acknowledge receipt of a complaint and offer to discuss the matter within three working days

Adam Hartrick, partner at healthcare law experts Hempsons, comments: “In order to effectively implement the new system a shift in the culture of complaints management and handling is required. Transparency and full complainant involvement is key. It is no longer sufficient to have a complaints system for ‘processing’ concerns, producing a long letter of response and closing the file. Now the complainant must be fully involved from the outset - what they want to achieve through their complaint needs to be discussed with them and an action plan agreed.

“The emphasis is now on the outcome rather than the process. Service managers, complaints staff and PALS staff will need to be more innovative in terms of dealing with patient concerns to ensure the complainant’s objectives are met in a speedy, efficient manner and that lessons are learned and disseminated from all complaints. Clinical staff need to engage with the process and see it as a positive opportunity to learn. Commissioners, the Ombudsman and the CQC will no doubt be critical of organisations that do not fully embrace these principles.”

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