How to implement a written complaints procedures

Many people decide not to make a complaint because they feel it is a negative action, or because they do not believe their complaint will be taken seriously. In reality, a complaint will arise when your organisation has:

  • done something in the wrong way

  • done something it should not have done

  • failed to do something that should have been done

  • treated anyone unfairly or rudely

  • acted against its policies and procedures.

One of the quickest ways to escalate a problem is not to take a complaint ­seriously, or to ignore it. Therefore, every organisation, regardless of its size, should have a written complaints procedure.

Effective procedure

An effective complaints procedure should entail the following:

Accessibility: It should be easy for the complainant to find out how and where to complain. Make details available on your website, in corporate literature, and make sure staff know how to advise clients about how to make a complaint.

Simplicity: Keep your system straightforward – there should be as few steps as possible, and the complaint should be dealt with quickly and efficiently.

Time scales: There should be clearly defined time scales built into the procedure that allow for proper investigation and response. Generally, complaints should be resolved within 30 days.

Acknowledgement: A simple letter acknowledging receipt of the complaint, an indication of who will deal with it, and the time it is expected to take should be included.

Independence: You should be able to provide for the investigation of any complaint by someone who is not directly involved. If the client is not satisfied, they should be able to pursue the complaint up through management. If you have a governing body or association, you should provide their details as well.

Confidentiality: Every complaint should be treated in confidence as far as possible. Remember that an OH complaint will inevitably fall within the Data Protection Act 1998 remit of personal sensitive information.

Recording complaints

A record of complaints provides a quality control mechanism for customer service and management review and ensures that all complaints can be tracked.

A simple spreadsheet noting the following is useful:

  • The date the complaint was made

  • A brief description of the complaint

  • Response details for the complainant

  • Actions taken to resolve the complaint

  • Who dealt with the complaint

  • The date that the complainant was advised of the outcome.

Remedial action

Make sure that staff are aware of the ­remedial action that is available. This may involve: an apology an additional consultation by a different clinician additional information provided by a more senior member of staff confirmation of known clinical facts or specifically responding to an individual’s questions or concerns.

All staff should be properly trained in dealing with complaints and understand the complaints procedure. Review this procedure regularly. Ensure that complaint handling forms part of the induction process, training and performance review of staff.


  • Reduced costs (direct and indirect) involved with complaint handling.

  • Better risk management, potentially limiting the number of complaints that may become formal legal claims or referred to governing agencies such as the General Medical Council.

  • Promotion of better healthcare outcomes.

  • Better quality assurance, by providing feedback on service delivery.

  • More satisfied consumers.

  • Every organisation will receive a complaint at one time or another. What distinguishes us is how we deal with them and what we learn from them.

If you only do five things

  • Develop a written complaints procedure

  • Acknowledge any complaint as quickly as possible

  • Train your staff

  • Be honest

  • Learn from the complaints.

Genifer Foster, MSc SHRM, FCIPD is managing director of Medigold Health Consultancy, and director of the Commercial Occupational Health Providers Association

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