One year on from the Francis Inquiry, there are still significant problems with consumers choosing not to complain about public services because they don’t know who to complain to or think nothing will be done.
With public service reform high on the policy agenda, our research shows more needs to be done to ensure consumers feel empowered and their voices are heard.
We’ve found there are three key reasons why people do not complain when they have a problem with public services: scepticism that their complaint will have any impact, fear of repercussions, and lack of understanding about how to complain.
Will complaining about my doctor really help?
Four in 10 people who had had a recent problem with a specialist consultant in a hospital did not complain. Of these, almost six in 10 said the reason was that they thought nothing would be done and four in 10 thought it wouldn’t be worth the effort.
A third of people said that they were worried complaining might lead to worse service or treatment for them or their family member and 27% said gave the same reason for not complaining about a GP. One in five didn’t complain when they had a problem with a specialist consultant because they didn’t know how to complain or who to complain to.
The best private sector organisations actively encourage and welcome feedback so it’s worrying to see so many barriers to consumers speaking up in public services.
And it’s not just within the NHS. Just two thirds (65%) of those who had cause to complain about an NHS service in the last year did so, and a similar percentage (69%) complained about another Government service such as the DVLA or HMRC. Yet 90% of people complained about a high street retailer when in a similar situation, 89% about a bank or tradesperson and 83% about an energy supplier.
Our research has also shown that people’s fears that they won’t be listened to are perhaps justified as, even when people do complain, perceived resolution of complaints is lower in public services. Almost six in 10 people who complained to an NHS or Government service felt their complaint was not resolved at the initial stage, in comparison with 42% for energy suppliers and banks and 30% for high street retailers.
Inspect services with high levels of complaints
While the Government has announced new measures around complaints since the public inquiry into the Mid Staffordshire NHS Trust, Which? is calling for three further steps to be taken to help drive up consumer power in public services:
- An automatic trigger for regulators to inspect any service with abnormally high levels of unresolved consumer complaints or where users demand an inspection.
- A single public services ombudsman should be introduced so consumers know exactly where to take their complaint.
- Super complaint powers expanded and strengthened to the equivalent of those in private markets.
It’s clear that more must be done to ensure that patients and their families use their power to help drive up standards in public services. Hearing feedback from people is essential to deliver the high standards that we all deserve. We need to see changes across all public services to improve complaints handling and give people the confidence that their voices will be both heard and acted upon.