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Proposed new targets for responding to patient complaints

by Costanza Potter
25 March 2022

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Standards being piloted by the health ombudsman may mean that GP practices face new targets for responding to patient complaints.

It is suggested that ‘straightforward’ complaints should be dealt with within six months and 95% within three, while 80% of ‘complex’ complaints should be completed within six months and half within three, under the proposals.

The new Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman (PHSO) complaint standards are currently being piloted in every sector of the NHS – including one GP practice – and were due to be implemented across the NHS this year. 

However, a PHSO spokesperson told Management in Practice’s sister publication Pulse that the full rollout is now planned for the beginning of next year, with the ombudsman to implement the standards from April 2023.

The proposed complaints standards said staff should ensure they ‘consistently meet expected timescales for acknowledging a complaint’ and ‘respond to complaints at the earliest opportunity’, providing ‘regular updates throughout’.

They should also give ‘clear timeframes’ for how long investigating the complaint will take and ‘agree timescales with everyone involved’, including the complainant.

An accompanying draft model complaint handling procedure said that complaints will be acknowledged within three working days either verbally or in writing.

The document said: ‘Our frontline staff often handle complaints that can be resolved quickly at the time they are raised, or very soon after. We encourage our staff to do this as much as possible so that people get a quick and effective answer to their issues.’

It added: ‘If we think a complaint can be resolved quickly, we aim to do this in around 10 working days. 

‘If we cannot conclude the investigation and issue a final response within six months (unless we have agreed a longer timescale with the person raising the complaint within the first six months) the responsible person or a senior manager will write to the person to explain the reasons for the delay and the likely timescale for completion.’

Organisations should maintain a record of all complaints and whether a response was provided within the agreed timescales, it said.

It added that the standards – developed with the CQC, GMC, DHSC, NHS England and NHS Resolution – are a ‘first step’ to addressing a culture in which complaints are ‘feared or ignored rather than embraced’, leaving staff feeling ‘unsupported’.

There is currently ‘no single set of guidelines for managing complaints about NHS services’ and staff can’t always access the ‘right training and support to handle and resolve complaints’, it said.

The model complaint handling procedure and accompanying guidance will be used to develop a ‘professional skills training and support programme for all staff delivering NHS services’, it added.

A version of this story was first published on our sister title Pulse.