Ombudsman’s new NHS Complaint Standards now live | Andrew Medlock

Andy Medlock

Today, the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman (PHSO) publishes new Complaint Standards for the NHS. Here, Andrew Medlock, Assistant Director of Strategy and Partnerships at the ombudsman, explains why they’re so important.

The result of several years’ working together with partners from across the NHS and other organisations, the New Complaint Standards for the NHS offer a comprehensive guide to best practice when handling complaints. They are a great example of the positive impact that collaboration can have.

Why the Complaint Standards are needed

Aside from offering a clear, consistent vision of what good complaint handling looks like, the Complaint Standards aim to foster an environment where:

  • organisations promote a just and learning culture, in which complaints are welcomed and handled well
  • staff have the skills and experience they need to be confident in handling complaints
  • people using NHS services know how to give feedback or make a complaint, can get support when they need it, and are confident their concerns are taken seriously and addressed
  • people making complaints about NHS services get a consistent, positive experience each time
  • staff being complained about are supported and involved throughout the process.

Responding to feedback

Building on a wide range of research and feedback from NHS complaint handlers, patient advocacy groups and others, last year PHSO launched a public consultation on the Complaint Standards and what people would like to see when making or dealing with complaints.

The consultation prompted a great response. Building on the feedback, PHSO has developed detailed guidance modules for complaints handlers, revised the standards to make them simpler, and will continue to work with partners, pilot organisations and members of the public to ensure the Standards continue to develop.

What do the Complaint Standards offer?

The Complaint Standards promote a culture that seeks to learn from complaints, treats people fairly, and works to resolve problems in a timely way. They are also the first step towards recognising complaint handling as a professional skill, and offer clear guidance on what good complaint handling looks like.

Providing a single vision of what is expected when a complaint is raised, the standards will ensure that everyone follows similar processes across the country. This will lead to a better, more consistent approach to complaint handling across organisations delivering NHS services.

The standards mean organisations will be able to address and resolve more complaints at the earliest opportunity. People will get answers more quickly, and will see staff taking learning forward to improve services for future users.

Complaints can be a positive tool, offering opportunities to change and develop. This is one of the key focuses of the Complaint Standards, which will guide organisations of all sizes to put the right structures and systems in place so they can capture and learn from feedback. With more effective reporting and learning from complaints, organisations will continue to improve their services.

Next steps

Later in the year, PHSO will launch a pilot scheme with a number of organisations across different NHS services. This will be a wonderful opportunity to further develop the standards and discover how they will impact the NHS when rolled out more broadly. You can see the standards, read and download the guidance modules, and give your feedback by visiting

Andrew Medlock is assistant director of strategy and partnerships at the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman. Follow them on Twitter @PHSOmbudsman

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