Following the Healthcare Commission report highlighting inconsistencies in the NHS's handling of patients' complaints, the Medical Defence Union (MDU) has advised that most complaints can be resolved quickly with a prompt and sympathetic response, which properly addresses the complainants' concerns.
Dr Hugh Stewart, MDU medico-legal adviser said:
"The MDU responds to around 90 calls a week from members asking for advice about complaints. We explain that the aim of any complaints procedure should be to address grievances in a conciliatory manner as soon after the event as possible.
"We also remind doctors that if a patient feels their complaint has not been taken seriously, their position may harden and the situation may escalate.
"As the Healthcare Commission says, there can be no one-size-fits-all approach to investigating complaints. However, our experience of helping members shows that complainants usually want three things from the complaints procedure – an explanation, an apology, if appropriate and where possible a reassurance that steps have been taken to prevent a recurrence of the cause of the complaint.
"It is also important that doctors are aware that saying sorry when something has gone wrong is not an admission of liability; it may be all the patient wants to hear.
"We also advise our members to seek to learn from complaints as part of their adverse incident procedures. We support the Healthcare Commission's emphasis on using complaints to identify where systems need to be put in place to try to prevent mistakes happening again."
The MDU has published the following five tips for doctors to help them deal with complaints quickly and consistently: