Your complaints procedure – it’s essential

This month we are going to be covering the subject of handling complaints. In my opinion handling complaints is one of the key components of good practice alongside good consent procedures and good communication.

A complaints policy is compulsory

We will consider your complaints procedure, handling complaints, learning from complaints and using feedback for professional development. We will also consider the Duty of Candour. These subjects relate to standards D3 and D4 in Theme D Professionalism.

Under standard D4 it is compulsory for osteopaths to have a complaints policy in place.

Fear or opportunity?

Everyone hates the subject of complaints. In many industries, including healthcare, there is a drive to see complaints as an opportunity. An opportunity to improve and develop your service. Living in fear of complaints can make you act defensively on receipt of a complaint. One of the keys to good complaints procedures is to have good communication. No-one wants to receive a complaint but equally no practitioner is perfect. You should expect to receive complaints at some time during your career. Feedback is an opportunity to reflect and improve and exercise your skills of good communication.

Feedback, not only complaints

The guidance states that you should provide information to patients about how they can make comments, complaints and compliments about the service they receive. Packaging your complaints procedure in this way encourages feedback in a much more positive way.

The Mint complaints procedure, leaflet and poster focus on compliments, comments and concerns. There is an emphasis on informing patients that the osteopath will listen and make changes in response to their feedback..

Your complaints or feedback policy

First of all, do you have a policy in place? From September 2019 it will be compulsory for you to have a complaints policy. If you have a policy, when did you last review it and ensure all your staff are aware of the procedure? Whether you need to write a policy or have one in place the following information will help you to make sure that you have a robust policy in place.

If you are a self-employed practitioner you must take responsibility for having a complaints policy in place. Your place of work may provide a policy which you can follow or you may need to write your own procedure – no excuses, you must have a policy.

What’s your clinic set-up?

You must have a clear procedure in place in your clinic in order to successfully manage feedback. Think carefully about who should respond – self-employed practitioners, reception staff and principals need to be clear about their role. Associates should ultimately take responsibility for handling their own feedback. The principal may wish to take an active role, perhaps as a mediator if appropriate. The reputation of the clinic could actually benefit from well-handled feedback.

If you are a sole practitioner you may wish to make arrangements with another practitioner to handle one another’s feedback if patients do not wish to speak to you directly.

What should your complaints procedure include?

It should be short and simple.

You probably need two procedures – one to be made available to patients and an internal procedure.

The procedure should tell the patient who is their point of contact in the practice and when and how their feedback will be responded to. Patient’s should be made aware that they can contact GOsC directly and be provided with their details – that’s part of D4 guidance.

Your internal procedure should make clear how staff should handle complaints – who will take responsibility, the necessity to inform your insurers. You should have a clear procedure for recording when the complaint was received, the issues and how you responded. You may wish to telephone the patient and arrange to identify the issues in a conversation or perhaps arrange for them to come in and speak face to face. You need to record how this meeting is arranged and what happens at it. You must agree to investigate the complaint and a timescale for providing a response. Be aware of any support the patient may need and be able to refer them as appropriate.

Always handle complaints in communication with your insurers.

Patients have a right to a full response to their complaint. You should communicate with the patient under the direction of the iO or your insurers. A response will include a summary of each element of the complaint, details of policies or guidance applicable, key facts, results of any investigation and plans for how to put things right.

Make sure everyone knows what to do

Have a clear, robust procedure in place and make sure everyone knows what to do – practitioners, reception staff, your telephone answering service.

Respond to all feedback – including the compliments

Equally staff should know how to respond to compliments or comments about the service. Do you want permission to share compliments as feedback? Do you want to reassure patients that you will respond to their comments and how will you do this?

Good communication, avoiding further irritation, respecting the patient’s views are fundamental to your feedback process.

Make patients aware of your policy

Don’t just write a policy and put it in your file. Use it to encourage feedback from patients. See feedback as an opportunity. You may wish to have information on your website and in your clinic room. The guidance to D4 states patients should be provided with information about how they can make comments, complaints and compliments. British Airways, Bill Gates and many other businesses and business people see feedback as essential to developng their service – so should we.


The IO has a template complaints policy available.

Mint has a template complaints policy in Theme D of the folder. We also provide a feedback leaflet and poster to publicise your feedback procedure.

Make sure you have a complaints policy in place – no excuses.

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