Bernard Jenkin MP, chair of the Public Administration Select Committee, argues that lessons must be learnt from the poor complaints handling at Mid-Staffs hospital. Should more be done to make complaints count?
The Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman, which oversees complaints about government departments and the NHS, described the handling of complaints by the NHS as a ‘toxic cocktail’, due to a combination of ‘a reluctance on the part of citizens to express their concerns or complaints’, and a defensiveness on the part of services to ‘hear and address concerns’.
This was no more evident than in the shocking collapse of care at Mid Staffordshire Hospital, which prompted the Public Administration Select Committee (PASC), of which I’m the chair, to start its inquiry into how complaints are handled across the public sector.
This shaming case should be a wake-up call for the NHS, the Government and for public services as a whole. How complaints are handled determines the quality of the relationship between consumers and public services. The best performing organisations welcome complaints as a way of engaging consumers. Yet, this does not usually happen with our public services.
More complaints please!
Failing to recognise the importance of complaints means that there is not sufficient redress for those who have not been treated fairly, that services are not improved, and that the public are alienated. That is why we have called our report ‘More complaints please!’ More complaints, and better handling of them, will help public services to improve.
There are some parts of the public sector where more attention is being paid to good complaints handling. But Government as a whole is failing to follow best practice in complaints handling or adapt to the needs and expectations of today’s citizens.
PASC’s recommendations for the Government
We therefore recommend that the Government should appoint a specific minister to oversee complaints handling, and that each government department should publish information on the complaints they have handled when they publish their annual report. This should include the number of complaints they have received and the number they have resolved, and the learning has been taken from those complaints.
The aim is not to create bureaucracy or a tick box exercise, but to achieve a greater level of transparency.
Most important, we recommend that the Government should create a single point of contact for people to make complaints about Government departments and agencies.
This would stop people having to navigate their way around the myriad of websites and phone lines for different departments and agencies. Instead, with one point of contact for complaints and with one minister responsible, those who have been let down by public services will be better able to get a fair resolution, and fewer people will be let down in future.
Do you agree with Bernard that there should be a single point of contact for complaints about public services?
Which? Conversation provides guest spots to external contributors. This is from Bernard Jenkin MP, chair of the Public Administration Select Committee in the House of Commons. All opinions expressed here are his own, not necessarily those of Which?.